The Heat welcomed the Sixers to Miami in what was the best and most compelling game of the playoffs so far. Philly won, 128-108, but this game was far from a blowout: It had everything from a masked man to unreal offensive execution to beefs springing up all over the court. Let’s run through all of the rivalries that occurred in Game 3 en route to the Sixers taking a 2-1 series lead:
Joel Embiid vs. His Mask
Embiid returned to the court after missing the past 10 games wearing a mask that looked like it was engineered by Tony Stark. It clearly bothered him. He slid the mask up on his forehead during every trip to the free throw line like a welder taking a break from the sparks. Embiid also spiked the mask off the hardwood in the third quarter after a hard foul sent him to the floor. It came loose and he was outfitted with his third version of the night.
But mask or no mask, Embiid was a difference-maker, even if it was clear he was rusty and a little out of sorts after a long stint on the shelf. Miami’s attempts in the paint and near the rim had next to no shot of going in over his neverending limbs. Embiid had three blocks in 30 minutes, but he deterred many other shots from even being taken. The Heat scored 36 and 32 points in the paint in games 1 and 2, respectively. In Game 3, they totaled 22 in the paint, and only six of those points came with Embiid on the court.
Embiid and his mask (made of both carbon and polycarbonate) put the game away in the fourth with two 3s and some jaw-dropping moves. It took more than three quarters, but Embiid finally accepted the mask and shook off the rust on his way to 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three blocks. “We’re not here to make friends,” Embiid said postgame. “We’re here to win a series.”
Embiid vs. Justise Winslow
Winslow had a tour de force performance in the first half. All told, he drained four 3s and scored a career playoff-high 19 points off the bench to help the Heat keep up with Philly’s high-powered offense. He also tried to give Embiid’s mask an impolite remodeling in the second quarter.
Justise Winslow tried to break Embiid's mask. pic.twitter.com/K9aE91qy2h— Yahoo Sports NBA (@YahooSportsNBA) April 20, 2018
Postgame, Embiid responded with a #wellactually and a dis, as only he can:
Embiid mentions Winslow stepping on and trying to break his mask: "Little did they know I have about 50 of them...I'm going to be a nightmare for them, too."— Kyle Neubeck (@KyleNeubeck) April 20, 2018
Mask-bullying aside, Winslow was a wall in the second half; he put together a highlight reel of blocks on both Robert Covington and Embiid. Embiid, of course, responded with one of his own:
Block by Winslow. Embiid returns the favor! pic.twitter.com/n8UANjYxDZ— BBALLiN (@BBALLiNcenter) April 20, 2018
Winslow finished with 10 rebounds and two blocks, but had zero points in the second half. Embiid won this battle, but Winslow at least showed signs of being the type of player a lot of people, including Danny Ainge, thought he could be coming out of Duke.
Dwyane Wade vs. Justin Anderson
Things got heated (no pun intended) when Wade pulled Anderson’s arm in the second quarter and the Sixers reserve guard responded by taking a half-hearted swing at him. This is a third-stringer against a Hall of Famer, but hey, that’s the playoffs.
They were both served technicals for “physical taunting,” and their tiff set the tone for the rest of the game: chippy, testy, and full of emotion. A total of 56 fouls were called! Anderson, who played just nine minutes, fouled Hassan Whiteside hard on a fast break a few possessions later just to double down.
Marco Belinelli vs. Goran Dragic
Both Belinelli and Dragic had efficient shooting performances that carried their teams during stretches. Belinelli finished with 21 points and four 3s, while Dragic sliced his way through the Sixers defense and tallied 23 points and eight assists. Dragic fed off the energy, and in the third, he and Belinelli got in each other’s faces after a physical play. Both received technicals.
Dragic came out of the half incensed and scored 11 points in the third frame, including a layup that culminated with a flex in front of Belinelli.
Don’t mess with the Goran.
James Johnson vs. Every Other Sixer
Late in the second quarter, James Johnson and Ben Simmons got double techs for getting into more verbal jousting. A word of advice for the rookie: Don’t mess with James Johnson, a man whose nickname is “Bloodsport.”
Johnson trash-talked the Sixers bench after hitting a 3 in the third (he finished with 12 points); he didn’t even watch the shot go in. No one in red and blue made a peep.
I guess they realized who Johnson was. Good job, Philly.
Embiid vs. Hassan Whiteside
The most prominent beef heading into this series isn’t getting much run since Whiteside has decided to play like this is summer league and not the playoffs. But after drawing a foul on Whiteside in the second quarter, Embiid walked past him and held three fingers to the sky as if the scorekeeper needed some help counting how many fouls Whiteside had.
Ben Simmons vs. The Heat Defense
Ben Simmons doing obscene things again pic.twitter.com/4u38ied8Ez— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 20, 2018
This was more BBQ chicken than beef. Simmons didn’t have his best game of the series, but he still made all the right plays and finished with a near-triple-double. Philly is far more talented than Miami, and there’s only so much the Heat can do to keep up as a result. Winslow had his moments guarding Simmons, but this one play shows that the Sixers are playing in a different weight class.