Experience manufactures resiliency. Miami’s one edge in its first-round series against Philadelphia was supposed to be its bundle of veterans, and the grit that they bring. They aren’t brimming with talent; that much was obvious as 36-year-old Dwyane Wade single-handedly kept the Heat alive late in the fourth in Game 4 on Saturday. Miami’s battle scars have kept the series competitive against the young, gifted Philadelphia 76ers. But the Sixers have refused to lose their collective composure during the moments in which a young team typically does. Philly’s toughness was essential in Game 4 and allowed the Sixers to steal the game on the road, 106-102. They managed to get the W because of these three key reasons.
Ben Simmons Will Not Be Knocked Down
Simmons continued his season-long tradition of playing well beyond his rookie status. Anyone who missed the game could gather that much from his stat line—17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals—making him only the fourth first-year player to notch a triple-double in the playoffs. (He was also closing in on double digits in turnovers, with seven, but both sides were loose with the ball throughout the game.)
Those numbers were a product of confidence. There wasn’t a trace of Game 2 Simmons, who was visibly shook by Justise Winslow’s tactics. He even rushed toward every scrum in a game chock full of them. Most impressively (or perhaps stupidly), Simmons wasn’t fazed by James Johnson:
Either the 21-year-old was unaware that he was getting in the face of an undefeated MMA fighter and black belt, or he didn’t care. And judging by a brick-wall screen he set against Wade later on, my guess is the latter.
Ben Simmons levels Dwyane Wade with a screen pic.twitter.com/9HvrcDSngr— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 21, 2018
If Simmons refused to hold back against a modern enforcer on a dead ball, he wasn’t going to hold back against a league legend. This series grows increasingly unruly by the game, and it’s heartening to see someone with elite talent like Simmons be so bold. It’s the kind of arrogance that can basically seal a game with a dunk as bloodthirsty as this:
The Sixers Only Fight the Battles They Can Win; Sorry, James Johnson
Game 4 featured numerous fights—mostly including or starring James Johnson. If any were worthy of retaliating or getting legitimately angry, it was this:
Saric takes a Johnson knee to the little Darios pic.twitter.com/liqFQD6ocp— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 21, 2018
And Dario Saric was chippy after Johnson kneed his, um, johnson, and argued with the refs that it was intentional. He even puffed up with the intention to walk over to Johnson, but Robert Covington calmly held him back, and that was the end of it. For under a second, it seemed like Saric was ready to escalate the fracas that began between Simmons and Johnson. Ejections and suspensions seemed inevitable by midway through the second quarter. But they never came, and that’s starting to define this Philly team. The Sixers regain poise after confrontation, even when a bevy of technicals, elbows, and knees were thrown at them. The team continues to defy expectations. If years of losing can’t bring them down, neither can Johnson.
Joel Embiid Unmasks When Needed
The mask could very well be throwing Embiid off. He struggled with his shot all game, and his final line gave off serious Russell Westbrook–down-in-the-fourth vibes: 2-of-11 overall, 0-for-4 from distance. Through three quarters, he looked like he was having one of the worst games of his career. But he pulled it together for an enormous fourth quarter, if not from the field, then from everywhere else.
Embiid powered up his rim protection, grabbed five of his 12 total boards in the last clip, and served up three blocks. (Although, his last stuff was called a foul with 15 seconds left.) And for all the shots he missed from his typical spots on the floor, Embiid took advantage of the one from which he could shoot blind consistently: the foul line. He was a game-high 10-for-13 from the charity stripe, and drew five of those attempts in—you guessed it—the fourth. It doesn’t hurt that the mask is not needed at the line.
After the win, Sixers coach Brett Brown said that Philly has “those two players [that] have the chance to be great.” Even after an abysmal first three quarters, Embiid deserves our swooning.