3 observations after Harden, Sixers grind Game 4 slugfest to tie series

The cliche that the playoffs only start when a team wins on the road — the one James Harden used after the Sixers’ Game 2 loss to Miami — seems dubious at the moment.

The Sixers won their second straight game in Philadelphia on Sunday night, tying their second-round streak against the Heat to two games apiece with an intense and crass 116-108 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.

Harden got them to the finish line with tons of clutch shots. He recorded 31 points, nine assists and seven rebounds.

Joel Embiid had 24 points and 11 rebounds. All five Sixers starters and Georges Niang scored in double figures.

Jimmy Butler was terrific with 40 points in a losing effort.

Dewayne Dedmon missed Sunday’s game due to illness. Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said ahead of the game the backup center was “day to day” and had tested negative for COVID-19.

Game 5 takes place Tuesday night in Miami. Here are the observations on the Sixers’ Game 4 win:

Embiid back in business offensively

The Sixers were determined early on to get Embiid deep catches against smaller defenders.

That involved finding the right angles to take advantage of Miami’s switching and fronting, as well as manipulating the Heat to help defenders momentarily out of place. Harden had two fairly high and low passes, and Tobias Harris also fed Embiid for an easy bucket in the first quarter.

Needle threading is not automatic, however. Harden committed three turnovers in the first half, including one when he couldn’t get the ball perfectly into Embiid at the rim. And he hit the rim itself in a similar attempt in the second quarter. It’s tempting to binge Embiid, but sometimes the Sixers will have better options. Miami tried to make those hard to explore at times by taking Harden all over the court.

Embiid was very wide on the left on his first three-point attempt, but he conceded his second. He drew the third foul on Gabe Vincent with 8.4 seconds left in the first quarter when the Heat guard gave up Embiid to position himself atop the Miami zone. Embiid’s two free throws gave him 15 points (on 5-for-6 shooting) in the first quarter – just three less than he scored on Friday when he returned to action in Game 3 – and put the Sixers in the lead 30-28.

Wearing a mask to protect his right orbital fracture and playing on a torn ligament in his right thumb, Embiid will of course not be at his best physically anytime soon. The start of Game 4 was at least an encouraging indication that he can still dominate games for both sides.

Working around more Harden foul issues

Even before Harden was called for his second foul on a charge with 3:05 left in the first, Shake Milton remained in Sixers head coach Doc Rivers’ flexible rotation. Furkan Korkmaz did not play on Sunday. The idea of ​​Korkmaz minutes is certainly less appealing when the Sixers’ outside shot is soft and Milton shows he’s a capable two-way player.

The Sixers made a few key threes with Harden sitting. Matisse Thybulle scored his first hat-trick since Game 2 of the first round. Tyrese Maxey also drained one against the Miami area. Bam Adebayo and the Heat offense in general were unsurprisingly more powerful with Embiid on the bench. The Sixers trailed by three points on his return, and that didn’t seem like a bad result at all for Paul Reed’s first stint.

Danny Green heard “Dan-ny!” chants at the foul line after a personal 6-0 run. He started 3 for 3 from long range after a 7 for 9 performance in Game 3. It was a pleasant regression to the average for Green, who only went 2 for 14 of three in Games 1 and 2.

These jumpers were momentum returners. Harden briefly entered a groove, sinking a back three on Butler to extend the Sixers’ lead to 56-46. The Sixers then held off a mini-Butler flurry to enter halftime up eight despite zero points in the second quarter from their star big man.

Huge Harden in second half slugfest

A Greens tangle with former teammate Kyle Lowry forced the 34-year-old out early in the third quarter with four fouls. Niang entered.

Maxey hinted at more second-half magic after a 21-point performance after intermission in Game 3 as the 21-year-old fired two free throws on a base drive and knocked down a three.

Tobias Harris then joined Green with four fouls just under five minutes into the third. Thybulle replaced him and slammed in a dunk when Embiid found him free along the baseline. Niang also had an important shot, responding to a Butler three that cut the Sixers advantage to 74-70 with one of his own.

As the many foul notes above suggest, the physics of the game escalated in the third quarter and no one on either team seemed happy with the officiating other than the player taking free throws. Adebayo, PJ Tucker and Max Strus all picked up their fourth fouls in the third. Philadelphia native Markieff Morris played his first postseason minutes as Miami favored veteran forward over rookie center Omer Yurtseven.

Sure enough, it took Morris about a minute to foul Embiid. And Embiid subsequently flatly denied an ambitious fadeaway jumper from Morris.

The Sixers evaporated any unease about Embiid’s time on the sidelines to start the fourth, stringing together saves and enjoying a second straight night of shooting from the Heat (7 for 35 from three-point range). Harden did exactly what the team needed at the other end, assisting a Harris three, making two foul shots and sinking a triple that extended the Sixers advantage to 97-85.

He was far from done making massive shots. The 10-time All-Star converted a three on Adebayo and passed him for a layup before burying another long-range jumper that gave the Sixers an eight-minute lead with three minutes remaining.

Harden let out an exultant cry after three more. That shot gave him 30+ points for the second time as a Sixer and ensured the streak had yet to begin, at least by one definition.

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