Getting little resistance and feeling confident in deploying his full array of offensive skills, Joel Embiid unleashed a crushing performance Saturday night, as he posted a playoff career-high 36 points in just 28 minutes to lead the Philadelphia 76ers to a 132-103 victory at the Washington Wizards.
He made 14 of 18 shots, with a stream of power moves, fadeaway jumpers and 3-pointers, as the 76ers took their first 3-0 lead in a postseason series since 1985.
The Wizards, who have matchup issues all across the floor against the bigger and deeper 76ers, didn’t double-team Embiid as aggressively as they did in Games 1 and 2 while looking to deploy attention elsewhere. Embiid crushed the strategy, piling up 25 points in the first half.
He is averaging 30.6 points on a relentless 67% shooting, including 55% on 3-pointers after making 3-of-4 in Game 3.
“It was one-on-one, and I wanted to take advantage of it. I guess that’s on them to make that choice,” Embiid said. “It’s hard to stop me if you send a double-team or not.”
His dominance and confidence against the Wizards’ attempts to deal with him were illustrated over two possessions late in the second quarter.
In open space at the 3-point line, Embiid pump-faked and easily got past Daniel Gafford, his defender on the play. When Embiid got into the lane, the back-line defender, Rui Hachimura, bailed and got out of the way. Embiid rose up for a power dunk but missed, maybe surprised it came so easy.
Two possessions later, seeing no reason not to, he tried the exact move again. Gafford was lost on an Embiid pump fake. Hachimura bailed when Embiid came rolling down the lane, and this time the MVP finalist got the timing right, polishing off a highlight jam before cupping his ear toward the opposing crowd.
“I missed the dunk, and [the fans] let me hear about it,” Embiid said. “I had another opportunity, and I wanted to hear more boos. It gets me going; I like it. I just love playing on the road.”
It wasn’t just Gafford and Hachimura; Embiid overpowered about half the Wizards’ roster on the night.
Washington came in ranked 13th in defense among the playoff teams and didn’t show much vigor, allowing the 76ers to get a stream of clean 3-pointers in transition and half-court sets.
Ben Simmons, who had 14 points and nine assists, repeatedly set up teammates for 3-pointers, namely Embiid and Danny Green, who made five of them. The 76ers made 17 of 33 3-pointers and shot 59% overall.
Wizards guard Russell Westbrook, playing through a sprained right ankle, had his best offensive game of the series with 26 points, 12 rebounds and 10 assists, as he tied Jason Kidd for third all time in playoff triple-doubles with his 11th. Bradley Beal tallied 25 points but made just 1 of 8 3-pointers.
“Joel was special, special tonight,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “We had one of those nights where everything fell for us.”