Joel Embiid was taking notes. That became clear in Friday night’s Game 3 of this best-of-seven Eastern Conference semifinal series.
So after Bam Adebayo averaged 23 points and 10.5 rebounds in helping the Miami Heat take a 2-0 lead over his Philadelphia 76ers, Embiid said it was time to set things straight at center in what turned into the 76ers’ Game 3 win.
“The big fella, Bam, was dominating, and I was really pissed off watching that other big man go and play well against my team,” Embiid said of his return Friday after sitting out with a concussion and orbital fracture.
Saturday, a day after being limited to nine points on 2-of-9 shooting and three rebounds, Adebayo acknowledged he has to be better.
“I still got to be aggressive,” Adebayo said after practice at Wells Fargo Center. “That’s part of the game. You see different lineups, you see different personnel and then you’ve just got to adjust your attacks.”
He said getting better angles on screens will be a priority in Sunday’s Game 4.
“They definitely made an emphasis to not let the pocket pass go through,” he said. “That’s one of the biggest things I noticed throughout the game. It’s just adapting and trying to figure that out.”
He also said nothing from Embiid came as a surprise, “I’ve been competing with Joel for five years now.”
But he acknowledged it did change how the Heat defended.
“We can’t switch one through five like we used to,” Adebayo said. “Now, we’ve got to be more strategic with our switches.”
Part of a double-technical foul with the Philadelphia’s Matisse Thybulle in Friday night’s fourth quarter, Heat power forward PJ Tucker has not been shy about mixing it up with the 76ers.
“PJ does what he does,” 76ers guard Danny Green. “We don’t have soft guys in this team. We don’t back down. At the same time, we have to be smart. Not going to get into a tussling match and get double-technicals. You know, just play smart and don’t take any cheap stuff happening. Don’t give any cheap stuff, either. Just play basketball.
“But, at the same time, be physical, just as physical as they are.”
Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers had pushed for pushback from his team after the two series-opening losses.
“They play tough,” 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey said. “They are a veteran team, and they are gritty, and you’ve got to hold your own and come together as a team. At the end of the day, it’s a fight. Like I said, we are going to take the fight to them instead of being on our heels and being a counterpunching team.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra took note of the 76ers’ Game 3 grit and of Tucker’s feistiness.
“I think they beat us to a lot of hustle plays and 50-50 plays in the first half,” Spoelstra said. “Tuck actually kept that conversation open, a lot of his plays. But other than Tuck. I think we were getting beat first to the ball too often.”
Tucker is hoping others will follow Sunday.
“I feel like we need to be more aggressive, more intentional on our side is what we need to do,” he said.
With the Dallas Mavericks-Phoenix Suns Western Conference semifinal now to go at least five games, the start time for the Heat’s Tuesday night Game 5 against the 76ers at FTX Arena has been locked in as 7:30 pm It would have started an hour later had the Suns swept the Mavericks.
If a Thursday Game 6 of Heat-76ers is required at Wells Fargo Center, it will either start at 7 pm if Suns-Mavericks requires a Game 6, or at 8 pm if Suns-Mavericks ends in five games.
A potential Heat-76ers Game 7 at FTX Arena on Sunday May 15 will be either at 3:30 pm, 7 pm or 8 pm, depending on the lengths of other series.
Should the Heat advance, the Eastern Conference finals will begin either May 15 or May 17, depending on the length of Heat-76ers and Milwaukee Bucks-Boston Celtics.