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In pivotal Game 4, Sixers look to send message: it’s a whole new ballgame with 21 out there

Will it be 3-1 or 2-2? Sixers aim to make it back-to-back victories in Philadelphia over Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and the Miami Heat.

Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Three Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

With Joel Embiid back in the lineup anchoring a stellar defensive effort which held the Miami Heat to less than 80 points in Game 3, the Sixers notched their first win of the second round, 99-79 on Friday.

That’s five wins down, eleven to go, for those thinking parades.

Tonight marks a pivotal Game 4. Philadelphia has a golden opportunity at home to tie this series up at 2-2. If they cannot accomplish that, they’ll be heading back to South Beach down 3-1 facing elimination in a hostile environment; a monster swing to be sure.

With Embiid more likely to play than he was prior to the last game, we can feel a bit more confident about things ahead of Game 4 than we did coming into Game 3. Fans had to wait until the final hour to learn about JoJo’s status Friday.

And that’ll cost the team, who apparently didn’t follow the proper injury designation etiquette:

The Heat went into the previous contest as one point favorites because Embiid was listed as out (and eventually doubtful). Now that we’ve seen the KIA MVP finalist make it through a ball game where he logged a robust 36 minutes, the line has shifted.

Despite winning by 20 points, despite the fact that we’re now confidently penciling Joel in for big minutes, the Sixers are listed as slim 2 point favorites on DraftKings. Their -130 odds offer an implied 56.5 percent. That may feel close to a coin flip, but it’s about 10 percent better than Miami’s implied chance. We’ll take it.

Why aren’t the Sixers bigger favorites?

Perhaps the casinos think Embiid is playing at around 50-60 percent (of how he looked before the thumb and facial injuries) and this is truly anyone’s game. Indeed, Embiid looked like the best player on the planet prior to these limiting ailments. Some of his super powers have been neutralized.

But being in Philly, they at least deserve a slim edge.

538 says the Sixers have a 35 percent chance of winning this series. We’ll see how that changes should Philly take care of business Sunday.

Lineups and injuries

Erik Spoelstra’s group hasn’t been tagged with a fine, but they’ve arguably been playing fast and loose with the injury report themselves. This thing reads more like an old sea scroll with how many names and ailments are listed, yet nobody really seems to think anyone but Kyle Lowry is truly banged up:

Most of these names were on the Game 3 report and looked just fine. Dewayne Dedmon pops up anew with a cold.

Lowry was available in Game 3 (his first game action since Game 3 of round one vs. Atlanta where he pulled a hamstring) but he went 0-4 in just 25 minutes. He’s still capable of keeping the Heat offense composed and drawing a sneaky charge or two but he doesn’t look quite like himself right now.

On the Sixers side, it looks like Embiid will be listed as questionable:

Isaiah Joe, who logged a single minute in Game 2 back in Miami, is listed now with a sprained ankle. He wasn’t in the rotation anyway, however. The rest of the report looks squeaky clean for Philly which is great news.

The players that Toronto GM Masai Ujiri opted not to trade Lowry for back in Winter 2021, Danny Green and Tyrese Maxey, looked awesome last game. The Sixers will hope that Maxey can maintain his rhythm. He’s averaging 24.7 points on 53/41/94 percent shooting splits this series.

According to our Joe DiProsperos, the team is looking for Maxey to maintain his aggression and do more waxing and less waning moving forward:

His tendency to wax and wane, even when he was at the controls with Harden on the bench, is something Doc Rivers acknowledged after the game.

“We have James, who’s a great ball handler, and Tyrese a lot of times just kind of goes away,” Rivers said. “And I told them all, we’ve got to make a conscious effort — that can’t happen. We can’t get let him go away; he’s too important to our team.”

Danny Green was also scorching. Green Ranger was about as hot in Philly as he was frigid in Miami, matching a career high seven postseason triples in the last one. No doubt Doc Rivers will hope lean, mean, Mr. Green no. 14 can continue to pour it on.

Matisse Thybulle hasn’t looked like himself since we learned he wasn’t sufficiently vaccinated to play in Canada. That news, and his related demotion to a bench role, appear to have really took some wind out of his sails. Prior to all that, he was beginning to generate some comparisons to a former Spur in Bruce Bowen, since he was hounding scorers and knocking down wide open corner threes at a reasonable rate.

There was a stretch in Game 3 where Matisse seemed to find a rhythm defensively, notching a slew of steals, blocks, and deflections in a small amount of time. But he’s been flat out bad offensively. It would be a big lift if he can get back on track since Tyler Herro is going to keep on coming.

P.J. Tucker on the other side has provided a bit of the blue print for what Philly hopes Matisse can become: great defense, and the occasional wide open corner three.

If the Heat counter by staying glued to shooters (like Green and Maxey) in the next one, it may give Harden and Embiid a bit more operating room to run pick-and-rolls. It appeared that Miami made a concerted effort to show James doubles, full court pressures, and shadow coverage throughout. Players like P.J. Tucker and Jimmy Butler were able to harass Harden and it did lead to seven turnovers for The Beard. He also shot just 1-7 from downtown. No doubt, James will look to bounce-back in terms of efficiency.

You can see how Miami was defending The Beard:

Luckily Maxey channeled his inner D.K. Metcalf and prevented the pick-six.

For the Sixers the winning formula this post season has been limiting turnovers and gang rebounding. Giveaways were still a big problem last game, they had 18 of those.

And down in Florida, they were out-rebounded by 10 boards per game without Embiid.

Game 3 the Sixers actually won the board battle 44-35, basically a 19 carom swing with Big Crypto Process in the lineup. But they probably can’t afford to cough it up so much again. Miami shot poorly in the last game, they figure to regress positively, so Philly will need to be much sharper, making sure they at least get up a field goal attempt on their possessions.

But all in all, it’s going to start with defense, and that starts with JoJo Hans.

Per our Paul Hudrick:

“Just his presence, obviously,” Doc Rivers said. “To start the game, his energy, his rebounding, his ability at the basket. I’ve said it all year — you could see his timing was off a little bit, but his presence defensively, I don’t think he gets enough credit for how good of a defensive player he is and how much he helps us. And I thought tonight, it was a lot of that.”

Embiid’s ascension to a perennial MVP candidate and the NBA’s leading scorer has seemingly overshadowed how great he is defensively.”

Win and it’s tied up, becoming best two of three. Lose and everything begins to look bleak. They need to keep getting stops, box out better and take care of the ball. That’s the mantra.

Game Info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Miami Heat

When: 8:00 pm ET, May 8, 2022

Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA

Watch: TNT

Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic

Follow: @Liberty_Ballers

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