April 21, 2019
Everybody likes awards. Five Star Review is our way of catering to that, spotlighting key sequences and performances, in-game oddities, puzzling quotes, and everything in between from each Sixers game. This space offers a chance to reflect further on observations from the night before using video, quotes, and good old-fashioned logic.
You should all know how a five-star scale works: a five-star performance is the best of the best, a one-star performance is the worst of the worst. Mistakes take precedent in defeat, excellence takes precedent in a victory. You get the picture and are encouraged to submit your own set of stars in the comment section below.
Today's game: Philadelphia's wild Game 4 win over the Brooklyn Nets.
Joel Embiid, destroyer of worlds
Every time you think Embiid has set the bar too high to clear it again, the guy somehow manages to deliver a top-flight performance that hints at more upside in the future. Listed as doubtful before the game, Embiid left no doubt who the star of the show was against Brooklyn.
I mentioned this in other articles I wrote in the aftermath of the game, but Embiid's passing may be the key that unlocks all of this. The less he's dribbling in the post, the better. The less his teammates stand around and watch him when he has the ball on the low block, the better.
One of the advantages of being over seven feet tall is that you can see more of the floor than anybody else in the game, provided you pick your head up. Embiid's feel for the double teams Brooklyn tried to send was elite on Saturday, and he adjusted quite well after some bad turnovers early.
His final assist of the game came on a broken play, but I think Embiid deserves credit for improvising once things went to hell on their final offensive possession. Instead of going into panic mode, he saw his guy waiting in the corner and hit Mike Scott for the game-clinching three.
Embiid's advantage over Brooklyn's big men was something we discussed coming into the series, and as they've tried to throw different solutions at the problem through the first four games, he has responded by avoiding the tunnel vision that has plagued him in the past.
We will see if this holds up against better teams, but again, a display of Embiid's skill level and chance to grow more in the years to come.
Ben Simmons, digging in deep on defense
Embiid was the team's most impactful defensive player on Saturday, but Simmons may have come up with the two best defensive plays of the day.
The first was (potentially) aided by a miscue from officials, though it doesn't take anything away from Simmons. Chasing D'Angelo Russell from behind, Simmons watches as Russell pushes his dribble a bit too far in front of him, and he lunges in at the perfect moment, creating a turnover with the game hanging in the balance.
There he was again on the final play of the game, this time with the Sixers benefitting from the whistle. Tobias Harris slows down Jarrett Allen just long enough with a tug before he rolls to the hoop, and Simmons is there to break up the play, using quick hands once again to knock the ball loose and eventually just take it right out of Allen's hands.
Since his Game 1 clunker, Simmons has responded with three straight excellent games on both sides of the ball. One of the most encouraging signs for me is that Simmons has been able to do damage despite ceding ballhandling duties more than he did in the regular season. Instead of simply lurking in the dunker's spot, he has done great work as a cutter and screener, giving Philly's big men a target when they are doubled.
Bigger tests are ahead, but a wonderful response from him.
Tobias Harris, sustaining the offense during dry spells
Harris was not going to be kept down forever, and he has been instrumental in Philadelphia's last two wins on the road. He played an especially big role in the Game 4 victory, with Harris leading the team in minutes on Saturday afternoon after Jimmy Butler's ejection shortened the rotation.
At times during this series, the Sixers have simply been able to overwhelm the Nets with their offensive firepower. Points were a little tougher to come by on Saturday, and that's where Harris' versatility as an offensive player really paid dividends.
When the Sixers were trying to buy Embiid a couple of minutes of rest in the third quarter, they were in the danger zone. Brooklyn had pushed the lead to eight, and Spencer Dinwiddie was feeling good, so the Sixers called a timeout to regroup.
The plan after that happened was simple: get the ball in Harris' hands and let him go to work. He scored on a pull-up jumper out of the timeout, and then backed Rondae-Hollis Jefferson down on the next possession, bringing the game within four:
These moments get lost in the churn of a playoff game, especially when there are so many big shots made down the stretch. But Harris' ability to go out and provide a bucket on his own helped keep the team within striking distance all game, and his two-man game with Embiid helped finish the comeback in the fourth quarter.
Veteran shooters doing veteran shooter things
This series has shown that being a high-percentage shooter in the regular season is not the same as being a big-time shooter in the playoffs. There are guys who are both, but Brooklyn's ace sharpshooter forgot to show up for the party.
JJ Redick and Mike Scott have jobs that rely on having an absolute mountain of confidence. You have to be able to shake off cold spells and come through when it counts no matter how many misses came before that last look, which is much harder than these guys make it look.
Scott's game-clinching three was the talk of the town on Saturday, but I hope people appreciate the degree of difficulty on Redick's monster three in the final minute, too.
With no footing to speak of, Redick still rose up and knocked down one of the game's biggest shots. Meanwhile, the man he has been covering for most of the series, Joe Harris, might as well be a face on a milk carton.
The experience factor has helped Philly here. And in case you missed Mike Scott's quote on his big shot, I'm going to leave it here for posterity.
"My job is to space the floor and be a decoy," Scott said. "Tobias tried to get it to Jo, and I think the pass got deflected. Jo made a hell of a hustle play, saw me in the corner, cashed out."
May you all cash out in your own lines of work for many years to come.
There were a lot of people calling for Jonah Bolden early on Saturday, myself among them. Boban Marjanovic was an absolute disaster in the early going, and Brown pivoted to include a younger, more athletic guy in the rotation with Brooklyn killing them on pick-and-rolls.
One thing seemed clear after watching those minutes: Bolden has absolutely no idea what he's doing or where he's supposed to be out there. I don't say that to mock him, because that is the case for a lot of young big men at the beginning of their development cycles. Bolden's role has changed this year, with the former forward trying to learn how to play center on a more full-time basis.
But he simply is not sharp enough to be the anchor of the backline at this point. The coaching staff may deserve a bit of blame here for not spending more time developing him during games this season, though ultimately when a guy has to be constantly directed on where to go by his teammates, I point the finger at the player. The Sixers turn into a bunch of air-traffic controllers with Bolden on the floor.
I think he showed enough this year to believe he has a reasonable amount of upside. But he will have to prove that slowly over time, not in these playoffs. Without Embiid there to protect him from his youthful indiscretions, he struggles.
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