“Yes it is fair, and yes it was planned.” These were Brett Brown’s words when asked if getting Joel Embiid rolling on the pick-and-roll early was an emphasis intended to get Marc Gasol moving laterally and defending in space. The Sixers led early, adjusted continually, and took control of the series with a 116-95 win over the Toronto Raptors on Thursday night in South Philly. It was their second straight game holding Toronto under 96 points. Brown continues to play chess in these playoffs against first time playoff head coaches.
Prior to the game, Nick Nurse said that the Sixers’ biggest surprise for Game 2 was matching Joel Embiid on Pascal Siakam. He expected more adjustments from Brett Brown. Early on, the Sixers went back to the matchup of Embiid on Gasol. But as it turned out, it was likely a gambit to bait the Raptors into adjusting prior to switching back to what worked in Game 3. When asked about the challenge of the Philly home crowd, Nurse did not think it was worthy of concern.
“A lot of places get pretty loud” Nick Nurse doesn’t expect the Philly crowd to be much of a factor tonight.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) May 2, 2019
Cited Orlando as a crowd that was “amped for their first playoff game”
So how did the home fans respond?
“I think we got outplayed in just about every area we could get outplayed in,” said Nick Nurse after Game 3. He expounded, “Just in overall physicality, energy, cutting, rebounding, passing, you know, all of that kind of stuff, we got thoroughly outplayed and it’s been a while.” He said that it was an outlier for the Raptors squad that was incredibly consistent all season. “It’s been a while since we’ve seen this team play that way.”
Want to know why Joel Embiid is helping off Siakam? I talked to Jo after game 2 and he said he can help off anytime unless Pascal is in the corners. Siakam's shot chart tells the whole story. pic.twitter.com/l00LggR189— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) May 3, 2019
Joel Embiid tonight: 33 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in 28 minutes. Per the @bball_ref game finder, he is the first player in NBA postseason history to record at least 30 points, 10 rebounds and 5 blocks in less than 30 minutes. Historic night from Embiid.— Ben Mallis (@BenMallis) May 3, 2019
“He is our Crown Jewel defensively, and probably offensively as well.”
Embiid was a dominant force in Game 3. Brett Brown ran pick-and-rolls early on to get Gasol moving and open up Embiid’s game. Joel responded with 33 points on 9-18 shooting and 3 of 4 from distance. His 5 blocks were reminiscent of the Nets series where he withstood challenge after challenge at the rim. Shockingly, he was a +31 in just 28 minutes played.
On what those celebrations do for his energy level and approach to the game…
I think for everybody that knows me, you know I need it. You know, I want to have fun. My game just changes. You know, I’m always told that if I don’t smile during the game, I’m either having a bad game or I’m not into it. You know, when I know that to get my game going, I got to have fun on the court. At the same time, I got to beat players. That part of the theatrics, it has to happen for me, and the game is more fun that way. We all have fun as a team. You know, you can see it lifts my teammates and we all do a good job.
On what kind of message his performance tonight sends to Marc Gasol and the rest of the Raptors…
I mean, you know they’re a great defensive team. You know, they double and triple-team a lot, so it’s a team defense. I’m not really focused on him. Great player, have a lot of respect for him, but it’s a team game. If I’m open, my teammates are going to find me, and if they’re open, I’m going to find them. So, I’m not really worried about them; I’m more worried about my team. You know, how we coexist on the court, how we play together. We know that we got to move the ball, we got to take up the ball and defensively just, we got a couple of guys on the team that have the potential to be defensive player of the year. So, that’s what we got to do. My job is just to get it moving.
On if he’s noticed a difference in playoff Jimmy Butler versus regular season Jimmy Butler…
Obviously, he’s a great player. I’ve noticed a difference. You know, playoff Jimmy is a different player. You know, it doesn’t matter. Both playoff or regular season Jimmy, both guys are the type of guys you want on the team because when it matters, you know when it’s the last shot or the fourth quarter, you know that he’s going to be there. He’s going to show up, no matter what he has going on. You know, the way we’ve been adjusting and the way we’ve been playing together, I still feel like we have so much potential, especially with Tobias [Harris], Ben [Simmons], JJ [Redick]. Just like [Jimmy] said, chemistry is overrated. When you have great basketball players on the floor, it’s easy. It’s not that complicated. We all — we’re passers, we play slow, we’re so unselfish. We understand that it’s all about moving the ball. We don’t want to ever get in situations where, you know, one guy has the ball and trying to create, we know that we got to move the ball. It just makes it easier.
Horrible in game 1. Good in game two. Absolutely brilliant so far in game 3.— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) May 3, 2019
The Jimmy Butler experience. https://t.co/Po3psKnT5u
Butler was a revelation in Game 3. His stats (22 points, 9 rebounds, and 9 assists) barely begin to explain the level of calm and confidence he brought to his team.
“This game is simple.. if you are open, shoot it, if your not, pass” Jimmy Butler— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) May 3, 2019
Joel Embiid followed with “Playoff Jimmy is a different player.”
On improvements he has made from the last game…
The way that they guard pick-and-rolls a lot, I think it’s—you have to be able to know where they’ll be and where the guard is going to be and we talked about getting big fella [Joel Embiid] the ball and making him make a lot of plays. Obviously, he is a force to be reckoned with, especially when he is making trey balls like he does, but then attacking the rim at the same time. I think that’s how we’ve got to play, you know, you get the ball to him, he’s going to score, make the right play. Same thing with myself, same thing with Ben [Simmons], you can go down the line, but all in all, we share the ball.
On his chemistry for pick-and-roll plays…
I think chemistry is a bad word, like everybody wants to say that because we played together however many games, we didn’t play together however many games—it’s simple enough to know that whenever you have some good basketball players out there, the game happens. You make the right plays, you do what you’re supposed to do with the basketball, and that’s all it is. The game is really, really simple. I think at times we, as players, decide to make it hard, but if you’re open, shoot it, do not pass.
On his commitment to play hard in the playoffs
I just do what my teammates and what my coaches need for me to do. I try to find the line to keep everybody happy, to tell you the truth. I think if everybody’s happy, everything runs smoothly. You win and that’s all it’s about, it’s not about being aggressive or not being aggressive, whenever we lose and I’m not aggressive, you all have something to say, but when we win and I’m not aggressive, it’s nothing. So just win and nobody says anything about anything.
Mike Scott returned tonight and played a tough 14 minutes. His stats also do not tell the story, but Scott was versatile and tough. He is wearing a special tape configuration on his right foot that releases a bit of pressure on his ailing heel. He said that he is sore, but happy that he was out there.
The blossoming love story between Scott and the fans has continued, and it is mutual.
Jimmy Butler says that Scott is a great teammate and so continually positive and tough.
“He’s a real one, I’ll tell you that” Jimmy Butler on Mike Scott— J Blevins (@JBlevinsNBA) May 3, 2019
James Ennis was another solid steadying force off the bench. Ennis has been really undersung since returning in the Brooklyn series. Ennis was a +20 in 24 minutes and was 4 from 6 from the field for 10 points. What strikes you about Ennis is he seems unfazed by the pressure of the NBA playoffs.
Game 4 is Sunday at 3:30pm EST. The Sixers can really grab hold of this series against the Raptors with another win at home.
So, for all you fans in attendance, remember to be loud like Orlando.