Joel Embiid has a lot of opinions and he’s never afraid to share them.
After leading the Philadelphia 76ers to an impressive Game 3 victory Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in his first game back from an orbital bone fracture that cost him 10 games, including the first two in this first round playoff series, the 7-foot, 250-pound All-Star center expressed his frustration about how Game 2 ended in Philadelphia.
Not only with the Heat beating the Sixers 113-103, but with Goran Dragic adding salt to the wound with a late layup.
“It kind of pissed me off,” Embiid said after scoring 23 points, grabbing seven rebounds, dishing out four assists and blocking three shots in 30 minutes in Game 3 while wearing an uncomfortable pair of goggles and a protective mask that wasn’t easy to see out of.
“Goran didn’t get a lot of [expletive] about it [in the media]. I told [my teammates] if we have the chance [to keep scoring], go do the same thing. I love blowing teams out. I like the fact that we did that. We’re not here to make friends. We’re here to win a series.”
Embiid, 24, isn’t just here to win a series, though. He wants to be a nightmare for the Heat.
Aside from his history with Heat center Hassan Whiteside, Embiid has watched how physical the series has been thus far and he’s been eager to join the fray.
“Since I went down my teammates kind of did a good job of just holding it down and winning every game,” Embiid said. “After that second game, I was told I wasn’t going to play. But I hate sitting out. I felt like it was time to come back, especially after watching how physical that Game 2 was. I love this moment. I love being physical. I love attacking. I love contact. I felt like they needed me in that way. We had a conversation and I’m glad they let me play.”
The thing that really bothered Embiid on Thursday wasn’t Whiteside. The Heat’s starting center played only 13 minutes and had five points and two rebounds while battling foul trouble. What bothered Embiid was the mask.
“It was annoying, but that was the only way I could play in this game if I was going to wear the mask with goggles,” he said. “No matter how much it bothers me, you still got to be a basketball player. If it gets foggy or I can’t see, there’s a lot of different stuff I can do, especially defensively, because I feel like I’m the best defensive player in the league. There’s a lot of stuff I can do.”
Embiid’s new mask and goggles didn’t get through Thursday’s game unscathed. They were knocked off his face midway through the second quarter when Kelly Olynyk knocked the ball free on a rebound. After Bam Adebayo scooped up the loose ball and dunked it, Justise Winslow walked over and stepped on Embiid's goggles before handing it over to the refs.
“Justise stepped on it and tried to break it with his hands,” Embiid said. “Little do they know, I have about 50 of them. It’s going to take much more of that to get me out of the series. I’m going to be a nightmare for them, too.”
Said Winslow: “He kept throwing it on the ground. So I don’t know if he didn’t like it or what.”
Embiid had to go to the bench and wait a few minutes to have the mask and goggles fixed before returning to the court. Sixers coach Brett Brown thought the whole incident was amusing.
“It’s part of the game. It’s good for the game. It’s playoffs," Brown said of Winslow. "Justise is good people. He's highly competitive. It’s part of the game. That’s the NBA playoffs. You can see the spirit in which both teams played. It wasn’t any other word but physical. It was physical for the whole game. That example with Justise probably is as good as an example of just the mindset everybody had tonight.”
Embiid ultimately got his revenge on Winslow later in the game. After Winslow blocked his shot on one end, Embiid returned the favor moments later.
“When he blocked me, I didn’t really see him,” Embiid said. “Good for him. But at the other end, I’m glad I got him back. I kind of shut him up a little bit because he was talking big time when he did block me. You don’t really want to talk trash to me.”
No, the Heat would prefer to shut Embiid up by winning this series. But Miami is in a hole now and the Sixers are only getting stronger.