The Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat do not like each other. There were the battles all year long between Joel Embiid and Hassan Whiteside, there was Goran Dragic’s layup to end Game 2 when Miami had a win locked up that made Philadelphia upset, and there was Dragic’s rather straightforward reaction to that general sense of poor sportsmanship from the Sixers.
So with Game 3 heading to the notoriously hostile American Airlines Arena and Embiid back in the fold for the first time this series, there was a sense that those boiling tensions could lead to a chippy game. And my goodness, did we get some physical play and trash talk between these two teams. When the dust settled, though, the Sixers made a statement by picking up a 128-108 victory against the Heat.
There were plenty of tense moments, like the altercation between Dwyane Wade and Justin Anderson, and Justise Winslow trying to snap Embiid’s protective goggles in half. Beyond those, there were other moments where there was obvious emotion and bad blood on display. Take, for instance, this series of blocks involving Embiid and Winslow.
Pay special attention to Embiid after both blocks. When his shot gets swatted, he shoves Winslow to the ground. When he gets Winslow back, it kind of looks like he tried to stare Winslow down.
There were tons of little examples of the teams going back-and-forth like this. Here’s James Johnson — who was chirping all night — canning a three and staring at Dario Saric and the Sixers’ bench while the ball is still in the air, because he knew it was going in, and he knew that Philly had to know about it, because James Johnson has never taken crap from anyone in his life.
Here’s some chirping involving Johnson and Ben Simmons. Why? Who knows! It’s the playoffs, this stuff happens sometimes, and it’s delightful.
But despite the fact that the general tension with which the game was played, there was some absolutely fantastic basketball on display. The Sixers were up four at the end of the first quarter, the Heat were up one at the half, and Philly took a two-point lead entering the fourth. Things were just that close between the two teams.
The standout, as often is the case, was Embiid, who took some time to figure out how to play with a mask but ended the evening with 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists, and three blocks in 30 minutes. When he is doing stuff like this, he is unguardable.
Simmons was also magnificent — 19 points, 12 rebounds, seven assists, four steals in 40 minutes with the Sixers outscoring the Heat by 24 points when he was on the floor — while Dario Saric (21 points) and Marco Belinelli (21 points) combined for eight made threes.
On the flip side, Miami got a Herculean effort from Dragic, who led the team with 23 points and eight assists. Dragic was making the quirky plays that have made him such a delightfully fun player during his tenure in the Association.
The Heat also got a big game from Justise Winslow, whose 19 points (all in the first half) on 4-for-6 shooting from three and 10 rebounds were a boost for the team off the bench.
Ultimately, though, this was Philadelphia’s night, and the fourth quarter — in which the Sixers outscored the Heat, 32-14 — was a reminder that when Embiid, Simmons, and co. are clicking, they’re really, really dangerous. Miami has bounced back from a loss already this series, and will have to do that on their home floor on Saturday afternoon. If they can’t things will shift back to Philadelphia with the Heat facing an elimination game.