MIAMI — Brett Brown predicted it.
The 76ers coach said on Friday that the already physical Miami Heat would elevate their physicality in Saturday’s Game 4 of the teams’ Eastern Conference quarterfinal matchup. He said the Sixers would have to welcome it and continue to keep their turnovers low.
While they churned out 27 turnover, the Sixers showed a lot of grit while escaping with a 106-102 victory at AmericanAirlines Arena to take a 3-1 series lead. They could clinch the best-of-seven series with a victory in Game 5 Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I’m shocked that we won this game,” Brown said. “We didn’t really have a right. Defensively, in the first three periods, was a C-minus. Our turnovers were an ‘F’.”
The afternoon belonged to rookie point guard Ben Simmons, who continues to put up historic numbers.
Simmons collected 17 points, 13 rebounds, 10 assists, and four steals, becoming the fourth rookie to ever register a triple-double in a playoff game. He also became the first Sixer since Charles Barkley on April 27, 1991 to record a postseason triple-double.
He joins Hall of Famers Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, and Jerry Lucas as the only players to record postseason triple-doubles as rookies. Johnson, in 1980, had been the last rookie to accomplish the feat.
“I think it just means I’m doing my job,” Simmons said of what his accomplishment meant.
The rookie-of-the-year frontrunner recorded 12 triple-doubles in the regular season.
“It’s not really anything new for the team or myself,” he said. “As long as we are winning, I’m happy. So all of those accolades will come if we all do the right thing.”
JJ Redick finished with a team-high 24 points, while Joel Embiid added 14 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks in his second game back since suffering a concussion and a fractured orbital bone near his left eye. His foul shooting (10 of 13) and defense made up for a rough shooting performance (2-for-11).
If there was a negativity it was the 27 turnovers. Embiid had eight, while Simmons had seven. Twenty-four of their turnovers came in the first three quarters.
“The fact that you can actually win a playoff game with this volume of turnovers is mindboggling,” Brown said.
After a Simmons dunk gave the Sixers a 102-99 lead, Dwyane Wade pulled the Heat within 102-101 on a turnaround fadeaway with 43.9 seconds left. But Redick responded with a 19-footer from the corner on the ensuing possession to give the Sixers a three-point cushion.
However, with 17.6 seconds left, Embiid was called for a foul on Wade while blocking the future Hall of Famer’s shot. Wade made the first foul shot before missing the second. Redick grabbed the defensive rebound and was fouled immediately by James Johnson.
He went on to make both free throws to give the Sixers a 106-102 advantage with 16 seconds left. Miami’s Josh Richardson and Johnson missed shots in the closing seconds before Simmons grabbed the defensive rebound moments before time expired.
The game’s physicality — Miami committed 32 personal fouls — and intensity perhaps led to Embiid forgetting to put on his mask following a break late in the game. He was fouled while attempting a jumper. He was given the mask while at the foul line.
“Everybody was scrambling on the bench, ‘Jo Jo’,” Embiid said of coaches and teammates screaming his name. “I saw everybody’s faces like, ‘Oh.’ ”
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) April 22, 2018
The intensity level went to another level after Simmons fouled Goran Dragic at midcourt with 4 minutes, 17 seconds left in the first half. Dragic didn’t stop driving toward the basket and Robert Covington made him pay. He shoved Miami’s point guard underneath the basket, knocking him to the floor.
Taking exception, Johnson grabbed Covington underneath the basket. Simmons, in turn, went after Johnson. In the meantime, Embiid, who was on the floor at the other end of the court, got up and ran down to break up the scuffle.
Covington, however, gave a politically correct response for the shove that triggered the melee.
“He just kept playing,” he said. “So in order to not allow him to run into me or run me over, I [had to] brace myself. That’s how the play happened. His momentum took him to where I braced myself and he bounced off me.”
Embiid’s account of what he witnessed wasn’t as PC.
“That wasn’t (Covington’s) fault,” pointing out that Dragic kept attacking the basket after the foul was committed.
“I would have done the same thing,” Embiid said. “There’s no free baskets, and you are not going to try to find your rhythm after [the stoppage in play]. That’s what we do when guys shoot the ball [during play stoppage]. We just swat it.
“We are not going to let that happen. I’m glad he did that.”
But while the teams clashed, Miami’s Richardson and Justise Winslow were banged up after colliding with Embiid. Winslow was bleeding after suffering a cut above his left eye, which required four stitches. And Richardson suffered what the team called a left shoulder contusion. An NBA source confirmed the Yahoo Sports report that Richardson suffered a sprained AC joint. Both players returned to the game, and Richardson is expected to play on Tuesday.
The rough play continued when Dario Saric was called for a foul while Johnson scored on a nine-foot floater with 2:19 left in the half. However, Johnson appeared to knee Saric in the groin, knocking the Sixers power forward to the ground. Saric was restrained by teammates after he got up. Then he went over to the referee and tried to plead his case.
Thirty-eight seconds later, Dragic knocked Embiid to the ground while stealing the ball.
And Hassan Whiteside and Saric were called for double technicals on a play with 5:29 left in the third.
Game 5 will start around 8:40 p.m. on Tuesday if the Golden State Warriors defeat the San Antonio Spurs on Sunday.