Sixers star Joel Embiid had a game he will want to forget after posting the worst plus/minus score of his playoffs career as Philadelphia went down 120-85 to Miami in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Wednesday (AEST).
Embiid scored 17 points for the fourth-seeded Philadelphia, which got 14 from James Harden and 12 from Tobias Harris.
The 76ers were down by 15 going into the fourth quarter, then gave up 12 consecutive points to open the period.
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“Tonight, we weren’t focused enough,” Embiid said.
For Embiid, who last year signed a four-year $281 million super max contract, a plus/minus score of -29 was the worst he had ever produced in his NBA playoffs career.
The plus-minus stat focuses on net changes in the score when a given player is either on or off the court, which in this case means Embiid’s presence on the court resulted in Miami outscoring the Sixers by 29 points.
Embiid is dealing with a torn ligament in his thumb, an orbital fracture and coming off a recent concussion battle.
While injuries have impacted the Philadelphia center, the timing of Wednesday’s lacklustre showing comes after he was edged out of the MVP award, with Denver big man Nikola Jokic claiming his second award.
Social media was just as ruthless, with several media identities taking aim at Embiid and the Sixers for Wednesday’s crucial defeat.
Meanwhile, NBA legend and former MVP Charles Barkley suggested Embiid wasn’t in the right head space over the MVP decision.
“Joel Embiid is so distracted in my opinion by this MVP thing. He’s not there tonight,” Barkley said.
It was a tough night all the way around for the Sixers, especially for Embiid — their best player, already wearing a mask to protect a facial fracture and dealing with a significant thumb injury.
Embiid got shaken up in the first quarter when he tried to dive into some baseline seats while attempting to save a loose ball. He doubled over shortly afterward, grabbing at his back.
He remained in the game after that scare.
He also remained in the game after the next scare, which was much worse.
It came midway through the second quarter, when Miami’s Dewayne Dedmon missed a shot and Embiid grabbed the rebound. Dedmon, flailing for the ball, made contact with it — and wound up pushing it back into Embiid’s mask-covered face.
“Pretty painful,” Embiid said.
Embiid lost the ball and went down obvious discomfort, covering his face with both hands. Oladipo picked up the ball and scored to make it 42-31, but Embiid writhing was of much greater importance to the 76ers than giving up two points. Embiid remained down for several moments, before making his way back to the Philadelphia bench and getting tended to by doctors.
“He’s tough,” Rivers said. “I think he knew going into all this that there’s going to be a couple times when he gets hit in the face. It’s going to happen. … He got up and said he was fine, after a while.”
It was that sort of night for the Heat, who — even without everyone getting shoulder rubs — are feeling pretty good about their playoff prospects again.
Jimmy Butler scored 23 points, Max Strus added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and the Heat moved one win away from a trip to the Eastern Conference finals.
The 35-point margin of victory matched the biggest so far in this year’s playoffs — Philadelphia beat Toronto by 35 in the series-clincher of that first-round matchup — and matched the second-largest in Heat postseason history.
“They were just more physical,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We didn’t run anything. We didn’t run our stuff very well. We played at a snail’s pace … everything they did tonight was harder and better. Their stuff was better, their energy was better.”
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