NBA playoffs: Joel Embiid scores 36 points, Sixers pick up emphatic Game 3 win over Wizards

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3 observations after Embiid posts playoff career-high in emphatic Game 3 win originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

In the last game Joel Embiid played at Capital One Arena before Saturday night, he suffered a left knee bone bruise, an injury he feared might end an MVP-caliber season. 

Game 3 of the Sixers’ first-round playoff series was a much more enjoyable evening for him.

Embiid was at his powerful, dextrous best, scoring 36 points on 14-for-18 shooting in a 132-103 Sixers win over the Wizards.

The Sixers lead the series 3-0 and can advance to the second round with a victory Monday night in Game 4. 

Russell Westbrook (right ankle sprain) was a game-time decision but suited up and had a triple-double with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists. Bradley Beal needed 26 field-goal attempts to score 25 points. 

Here are three observations on the Sixers’ decisive Game 3 win: 

Embiid destructive against single coverage 

Perhaps deterred by Ben Simmons and Tobias Harris’ efficient Game 2 performances, Washington was more conservative in sending help on Embiid. That was a dangerous approach.

Embiid is too strong and too skilled for any player on the Wizards. He has been a stellar jump shooter this season, with the caveat “for a 7-footer” not required. With his shots falling from the perimeter, his slow-motion pump fakes were especially convincing Saturday night.

The MVP finalist was in peak form in the second quarter, seeming to make the correct decision every time he received the ball. The Sixers have been good this year about ensuring Embiid touches it on every possession when he’s rolling, too.

Embiid narrowly missed one thunderous dunk attempt late in the second quarter. He sensed an opportunity for another one soon after, though, and delivered. Playing the WWE heel role, he asked the home fans to increase the volume of their boos. 

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“They let me hear about (the missed dunk)," he said. “I mentioned in the past that I love playing on the road. They started cheering just because I missed the dunk. I had another opportunity where I actually made a dunk, so that’s why I went over to them and I wanted to hear more boos, because it gets me going. I like it.

“I guess the alternative they could use is to actually cheer for me. I don’t know. I just love playing on the road. I love playing up to the boos or fans talking trash. It gets me going.”

The Wizards did not guard Embiid (or the Sixers in general) intelligently, and he capitalized on many of their mistakes. Alex Len fouled him about 65 feet from the hoop with just 0.8 seconds left in the first half. 

The other two members of the Sixers’ Big 3 again had clear matchup advantages. Simmons was aggressive in his initial stint and recorded 14 points and nine assists in the game. He’s played very well in the series’ first three games despite missing all nine of his free throw attempts. 

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Harris, who posted 20 points, 13 rebounds and five assists, has shot 57.1 percent in the series.  

Every Sixers starter scored at least 14 points. 

Sixers’ sweet shooting 

Seth Curry was not at all reluctant to shoot early, knocking down one jumper from the right corner and then another from the opposite corner. 

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has encouraged him to fire throughout the season. 

“We obviously brought it up in our pre-playoff package to the team about what everybody should do more and what they can do better,” Rivers said pregame. “I just told him, 'I don’t think I’ve told a lot of shooters they should shoot open shots more.' But he’s doing it and it’s good, because he is such a threat. It really helps our offense.”

Nobody on the Sixers was hesitant to put up long-range jumpers and Danny Green led the way, converting 5 of 9 threes. The 33-year-old missed a heat check from close to 30 feet out in the second quarter. Fair enough.  

Wizards head coach Scott Brooks brought Davis Bertans into his starting lineup in place of Raul Neto. One reason for that logical move was Bertans’ shooting skill and the fact that Washington was coming off of a ghastly Game 2 from three-point range (2 for 22). 

Bertans did not singlehandedly solve that issue. He made 1 of 5 threes and Washington went 8 for 35 as a team. 

Bertans is nine inches taller than the 6-foot-1 Neto, whom the Sixers frequently targeted on defense in Games 1 and 2. He was not a significant defensive upgrade, though. The Sixers’ ball movement was excellent and no Wizards coverage ever seriously stymied them. 

Rivers tweaks rotation 

Tyrese Maxey played over Shake Milton in an all-bench Sixers lineup at the end of the first quarter. 

With Maxey looking good early in the series and Milton having gone 0 for 6 from the floor in Game 2, it wasn’t a stunning move. Rivers acknowledged before the game that the Sixers don’t think Milton is best as a primary ball handler. 

“We don’t have him bringing (the ball) up as much as he has in the past, for sure,” Rivers said. “I think just the ball pressure alone bothers him.”

Though he’s a 20-year-old rookie, Maxey is a self-assured, low-turnover player. The potential downside of playing him and leaving out Milton is removing a good three-point shooter from the mix. 

Rivers described the change as being matchup-based.

“They had Neto and Ish (Smith) on the floor at the same time," he said. “We just need to match speed with speed.”

Milton was not outside of the rotation completely as he first appeared with 1:10 remaining in the second quarter. He scored four points and committed four turnovers in 11 minutes. Maxey had four points and two assists in his 11 minutes.

Even if Maxey is a preferred option for the time being, the Sixers would sure like if Milton could make a few shots and get into an offensive groove. He played in garbage time as the Sixers closed out another comfortable playoff victory.

“You’ve got to stay true to yourself, stay true to your work and what you’ve put in all year," Harris said. “It just takes one game to find a good rhythm and be able to flow off of that. That’s my advice to him. In the moment, you have to just be ready for that. You have to trust that your game will come.

“And it will for him because we as a team, we need Shake. We know what type of player he is. And he’ll have that game where he’ll break out and get in his rhythm. You just forget about all the rest and keep moving forward. So that’s my advice to him. I’ve told him that already and we’re confident in him.”