Don’t miss our 3 takeaways from that shocking upset.
But let’s see where this win stands on our list of all-timers from this post-Sam Hinkie era, when the 2023 NBA MVP in Embiid truly began his already amazing career.
I’m not going to include regular season games, because as awesome as a 59-point and seven-block performance vs. the Jazz might have been, as awe-inspiring as a 52-point performance vs. the Celtics that put a stamp on the MVP conversation was, at the end of the day, those are not playoff victories.
Sorry Jim Mora, we’re talkin’ about playoffs. So let’s pick from a few of the Joel Embiid era’s best, in chronological order.
2018 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals: Game 5 Sixers-Heat, final: 104-91
Just a warm up here. But you already know this one was fun. The tanking days were in the rearview, the Sixers still possessed a huge bevy of draft picks and cap space, there was nothing but hope in front of us as fans following a memorable first playoff series victory over Miami in 2018.
Sure Justice Winslow stepped on the Phantom of the Process’ face mask, but it didn’t help an overmatched Heat group. And there’s few things more fun in sports than seeing a group of young, homegrown studs win in the playoffs, long before their primes; especially after enduring years of national media hate for their rebuild.
2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 2 Sixers-Raptors, final: 94-89
Jump to 2019 when the Sixers added Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris and had to learn how to play together on the fly. Joel Embiid only had 12 points in this game, as he was not quite healthy, or close to peak condition. But he was the defensive anchor for a Sixers unit that held the eventual champions to just 89 points at home. Unreal defense from that group.
Jimmy Butler poured in 30 points, going an uncharacteristic and remarkable 4-of-10 from distance. James Ennis III had 13 points, and somehow Philly stole home-court advantage from Toronto.
2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 3 Sixers-Raptors, final: 116-95
You knew it would make this list. “The windmill game.”
2 years ago today: I legitimately cried tears of joy watching Joel Embiid windmill on the Raptors, as I was 100% certain we were headed to the NBA Finals. Pure joy.— Josh Reynolds (@JoshReynolds24) May 2, 2021
(Yes, we would have beat the Bucks)pic.twitter.com/M7Dw05J1o7
This was the game where it truly felt like a Raptors team, that entered that series heavily favored, was simply overmatched.
Head coach Brett Brown was pushing all of the right buttons adjustment wise. After getting punched in the mouth Game 1, Brown slid Joel onto Pascal Siakam (less of a shooting threat back then, letting Jo protect the cup) and Tobias Harris onto stretch big Marc Gasol. Jimmy Butler wasn’t slowing down Kawhi Leonard so that gave Ben Simmons the ridiculous, impossible chore of trying to slow him down. Then Jimmy had more chances to stymie the diminutive North Philly native in Kyle Lowry, now Jimmy’s Miami teammate. JJ Redick was solid on Danny Green.
This set the stage for them to potentially go up 3-1 on Cinco de Mayo, 2019 in Game 4 at home... something they ultimately failed to do.
Something about gastroenteritis blues, or the s—ts, moving on.
2019 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 6 Sixers-Raptors, final: 112-101
I wasn’t sure at first if I was going to include this game, because when I watched it, I was not in “ecstasy or agony” mode based on the result. I was more in “this will bring relief or resignation” mode.
Winning would be awesome, but I knew there was still a tremendous, unlikely, uphill battle to have to go to Toronto and win Game 7.
But mathematically, this win was as or more important than any of the others towards the team’s chances.
The Sixers starters were all mostly awesome. Ben Simmons dropped 21 points, eight boards, and six dimes, while also finding his legs as an All-NBA caliber defender, helping limit Kawhi Leonard to just 9-of-20 from the floor. It’s still one of Simmons best career games.
Butler, the closer, led the way with 25 points, and while Joel only had 17, he was an absolutely shocking +40 in the box. Hahahahaha. Oh and Mike “Threegional Manager” was a +29!
And that set the stage for the Game 7 we’d rather all forget.
2021 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 6 Sixers-Hawks final: 104-99
Skipping through the Bubble sweep, we’re onto ‘21.
Embiid missed a running (tough but definitely makable) layup in Game 4 of this tragic series.
Simmons missed a tip in. And the upstart Atlanta Hawks knotted this series up at 2-2. It was a golden opportunity for the 76ers to set themselves up for a commanding 3-1 series lead, heading back home. But alas....
Then in Game 5, the Sixers blew a 25-point lead at the crib! They led by 18 heading into the fourth period. And somehow they lost. Simmons was just 4-of-14 from the line, and that may have been the precursor to not only his struggles the rest of the way, but to his eventual end as a Sixer.
Most fans have (reasonably) concluded his aggression on offensive completely deteriorated because he did not want to shoot more free throws.
The Sixers lost 109-106 and were absolutely stunned. It seemed like the type of game which would break their spirit, heading back to Atlanta for an elimination Game 6.
But Doc Rivers made the risky gamble to limit Simmons’ minutes in that one, and give his untested rookie Tyrese Maxey a chance.
Never forget when Tyrese Maxey saved the Sixers in Game 6 vs the Hawks when Ben got into early foul trouble pic.twitter.com/avQC3GH2h5— Teddy (@tedgotthebread) August 3, 2022
And holy mackerel, did that pay off. Out of seemingly nowhere, Maxey stepped onto the biggest stage of his pro career at the time, and dropped 16 points off the bench. Tobias Harris actually led the way (Joel had a partially torn meniscus) with 24 points.
It was a “holy s—t” what do we have here moment for Tyrese Lightning, who we’ll talk about a little more very shortly.
Sixers forced a Game 7 back home. And that moment set them up for the very best objective title odds the Sixer have possessed in the Embiid era, before “the pass” and general tragedy unfolded.
2022 Eastern Conference quarterfinals: Game 3 Sixers-Raptors: 104-101
It’s only a first-round series but Joel Embiid’s game-winning triple should be included here. We didn’t know it at the time, but Joel was playing here with a freshly torn thumb ligament, which apparently had not swelled up yet.
Cool, calm, and collected.
Joel Embiid's Game 3 game-winner from inside the arena!— NBA (@NBA) April 21, 2022
Game 4: 76ERS/RAPTORS
Sat. 2:00pm/et on TNT pic.twitter.com/Cs13oVAZZs
That put Philly up 3-0, and the vibes were off the charts. He poured in 33 points and 13 boards in that one. The thumb, and later the whole broken face concussion thing, plus James Harden’s balky hammies would put a damper on the rest of the playoffs but on this night, we didn’t have any of that to think about.
2023 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 1 Sixers-Celtics final: 119-115
Now mere days ago, Embiid wasn’t ready to play just yet, nursing his LCL sprain. So it was James Harden who stormed into Boston and stole home court advantage from Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and co.
Harden finished with 45 point, six assists, two steals, draining 7-of-14 triples including the game-winning dagger over Al Horford.
This was already one of several “they never win that game” games for Philly these playoffs. Embiid was not active but it still would have gotten my vote before this next one....
2023 Eastern Conference Semifinals: Game 5 Sixers-Celtics final: 115-103
By the opening tip, the 76ers were +7.5 underdogs for this one. The money line on DraftKings gave the Sixers roughly 23 percent implied odds to emerge victorious.
But they got a shocking upset, and they did it in decisive fashion no less. Remember how Doc Rivers threw a hail mary and inserted Maxey into a lineup for the absolute must-win game in Atlanta? This time it was Danuel House who showed up out of nowhere to help.
Even though they led comfortably much of the way, this was a game my PTSD Sixers fan soul simply couldn’t accept as a win until the final horn. Even after the Celtics cleared their bench, they instantly went on a 9-0 run.
Maxey finally had a signature performance against a team that makes life difficult on him. Dude poured in 30 points to go with six made triples. Joel had 33, Harden had 17 and 10.
And unlike any of the prior games, both of these last two games from 2023, are open ended. We do not have the cloud of doom hanging over us. It’s harder to enjoy a big win when you know it didn’t lead to much.
Yes, if the Sixers lose Game 6, they’ll instantly revert back to huge underdogs for Game 7. But if they can win Thursday, and advance to the first Conference Finals of the Joel Embiid era, their first since the Allen Iverson days, it’s inevitable that win would shoot towards the top of our poll here.
I think I know the answer ahead of time, but it was fun to look back. So let’s vote.
Which was the greatest playoff win of the Joel Embiid era?
This poll is closed
2018: Game 5
2019: Game 2
2019: Game 3
2019: Game 6
2021: Game 6
2022: Game 3
2023: Game 1
2023: Game 5