NBA Playoffs: Sixers overcome Embiid struggles, Suns take 2-1 lead


FOX Sports writers provide game insights throughout the NBA Playoffs. Here are her thoughts from Thursday night.

76ers 102, Nets 97: Embiid’s efforts result in an ominous victory

It probably doesn’t bode well for the Sixers that the first round of the playoffs isn’t even complete and Joel Embiid is already at work. Yes, he had a stellar block to seal the Sixers’ win over the Brooklyn Nets and give them a 3-0 lead in the series. But other than that, he did little to help his team.

His numbers were ugly. He just shot 5-for-13 from the field. He ended a season low with 14 points. He turned the ball over five times. He committed five fouls. He didn’t get a single offensive rebound despite coming up against a severely undersized Nets roster. He only attempted five free throws.

But his manner was worse saw. He seemed to fall to the ground every other walk down the court. Sometimes he would limp when he got up. He clung to his knees. Never mind that he lost his nerve in the first quarter and – although he was not interpreted by officials as grounds for a sacking – kicked Nic Claxton in the groin.

Speaking to reporters after the game, Embiid was his usual self, using his charm to fend off questions about his actions. When asked about his health, he said: “I’m fine, I took a lot of shots today. I’m doing well.”

When asked about Claxton’s shot down the middle, Embiid said: “I don’t know, I don’t remember. Like I said, we’re 3-0 up.”

The All-NBA center specifically stressed his belief that the Nets shot his knees and back in hopes of sparking a reaction and throwing him out.

“The whole game you could see what they were doing, they were just trying to cheer me up,” Embiid said. “I’m too valuable, especially after the first one, I just understood that I’m too valuable to get involved in this stuff.”

But as I watched the game, I couldn’t help but think of something someone in the Sixers organization said to me a few years ago when discussing the team’s title chances: “It all comes down to whether Joel in April everyone can play every other day for three months at a level close to their best.”

That has remained the case to this day. And that’s why the Sixers could be in trouble despite being on the verge of sweeping their first-round opponent.

— Yaron Weitzman

Warriors 1114, Kings 97: Be careful with curry

If the game is in the Bay Area and Steph Curry plays, the Sacramento Kings lose.

The Kings appeared poised to put a stranglehold on their first-round series with the defending champions Golden State Warriors Thursday night. Already 2-0 in the series, they faced a Warriors team in Game 3 without their defensive quarterback and offensive orchestrator Draymond Green, who was suspended for hitting the chest of Kings center Domantas Sabonis with 7 minutes left in Game 2 had kicked.

Green then received a flagrant foul, penalty two, which resulted in his ejection, and Sabonis was charged with a technical foul for grabbing Green’s ankle.

The Warriors were stunned when the league added a one-game suspension to Green’s punishment. NBA basketball chief Joe Dumars said Green’s history of previous incidents along with goading the Kings crowd while officials reviewed the game were factors in the decision to suspend him. The fact that NBA Commissioner Adam Silver was there and keeping a close eye on Green’s antics probably didn’t help.

But the Warriors still had a few things working in their favor. Such as:

This is the Kings’ first playoff game in 16 years.

Chase Center’s magical impact on the level of play of the team’s roleplayers, who are as great at home as weak on the street.

His core’s postseason resilience and stubborn confidence evolved over the past eight years through six marches to the finals, four of which produced rings.

And of course Stephen Wardell Curry.

Since 2013, the Kings have not beaten the Warriors in a game in the Bay Area — either at their former home Oracle Arena in Oakland or their current home Chase Center in San Francisco — when Curry is playing. The streak is now 14 straight losses. And rising.

“They say Draymond has a story, so do we,” Curry told the television audience afterwards. “We know how to hit back.”

Curry led by 36 points, aided by 6-of-12 shots from deep, but a number of roleplayers, largely invisible in Sacramento in the first two games, bolstered the wire-to-wire win contributions that Green would normally have provided. None of them did more than Kevon Looney, who stepped in as an offensive distributor with 9 assists and doubled his work on the boards by grabbing 20 rebounds, four more than his first two games combined. Moses Moody, a DNP in Game 1 with four points in 8 minutes in Game 2, made up for Gary Payton II’s absence with 13 points. Donte DiVincenzo, scoreless in Game 2, delivered a mini version of Green’s all-around game with seven rebounds, eight assists, four steals and six points.

The Warriors were willing to play at a more deliberate pace early on, presumably to avoid the turnovers (20) that were a big part of their Game 2 downfall. Mission accomplished: They took a 29-20 lead in the first quarter while committing just one turnover, from Curry, in the first minute. The Kings stayed within striking distance in the first half but never showed the same fire, physicality and guts that were on the heels of the defending champions in Sacramento. The Warriors maintained a double-digit lead for most of the second half. Much of that is thanks to their defensive intensity, which held the league’s top-rated offense at 97 points, 24 below their season average.

“We couldn’t change a decision that we knew was wrong,” Curry said, “but if we could come out and win tonight and change the dynamic of the series, that would give us an opportunity to just wrap it around.” To do basketball… We did what we were supposed to do.”

—Ric Bucher

Suns 129, Clippers 124:

Hours before the LA Clippers hosted the Phoenix Suns, the series took a dramatic turn.

It was announced that Kawhi Leonard would miss Game 3 with a right knee sprain, meaning the Clippers would be without their two Superstars. (Paul George is missing with a sprained right knee and will reportedly likely miss the entire series.)

Give me game for the Suns, right?

Not so fast.

Norman Powell and Russell Westbrook made a valiant effort, scoring 72 points together and forcing the Suns to earn their 129-124 win over the severely limping Clippers in a game that fell out until the last minute.

This much can be said about the Clippers: They showed a lot of heart in another postseason struggling with injuries.

They were as much as 13 points behind in the fourth quarter before Westbrook took two free throws to reduce the deficit to three points, 119-116. But the Suns held on to the win, led by a 45-point performance by Devin Booker.

Leonard is now considered everyday, with Game 4 very quickly a day and a half later on Saturday at 12:30 p.m. at Arena.

Clippers coach Ty Lue didn’t hold back on how disappointing the injury was for Leonard, who missed all of last season after tearing an ACL in the 2021 Western Conference semifinals.

“I mean, it’s very draining,” Lue said of Leonard, who suffered an aggravated right knee at the end of the Clippers win in Game 1 rehab session, eats right, eats clean, does everything for his body, works extremely hard, to get to that point – and then something like this happens to him. It’s tough for him.

Powell (42 points in 40 minutes) and Westbrook (30 points, 12 assists and eight rebounds) tried to catch up. While there are many unknowns for the Clippers, the team’s efforts while they were down have given them hope that they can still bounce back regardless of what happens to their Superstars.

As Powell noted, the Clippers could have surprised the world even with a Game 3 win had a few jumps gone the other way.

But no such luck.

Now, 2-1 down, they can only look ahead knowing exactly what their strategy will be.

“Just keep believing and don’t let go of the rope, just keep fighting, risk everything,” Powell said.

— Melissa Rohlin

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He is the author of “Refueling to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boldest Trial in Professional Sports History.”.” Follow him on Twitter @YaronWeitzman.

Ric Bucher is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. He previously wrote for Bleacher Report, ESPN The Magazine and The Washington Post and has authored two books, Rebound, about NBA forward Brian Grant’s battle with early-onset Parkinson’s disease, and Yao: A Life In Two Worlds. He also has a daily podcast, On The Ball with Ric Bucher. Follow him on Twitter @Ric Bucher.

Melissa Rohlin is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. She has previously covered the league for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, the Bay Area News Group and the San Antonio Express-News. Follow her on Twitter @melissarohlin.

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