Is the momentum real? Sixers ride playoff extremes to crucial Game 5 in Miami


MIAMI — He’s listed as questionable for Game 5, but Joel Embiid’s status no longer appears to be an uncertain proposition.

Asked after the Sixers’ Game 4 win Sunday in their second-round series against the Heat about the keys to carrying momentum over to Miami, head coach Doc Rivers started somewhere simple.

“Well, Joel’s going to be able to play,” he said with a laugh.

The availability of a 7-footer forced to don a protective mask might be among the more predictable elements of this series. The Sixers hope Embiid looks a little more like a supervillain Tuesday night in South Beach and helps them move within a game of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Even if one attempts the impossible task of removing Embiid from the picture, the Sixers’ fluctuations in fortune and overall performance have been extreme over the last week or so.

Danny Green totaled 2 made three-pointers on 14 attempts in Games 1 and 2. Since then, he’s gone 10 for 13 from long range.

After shootaround Sunday, Green recalled learning not to "listen to the media" from Spurs head coach Gregg Popovich.

“One day you’re the greatest of all time, you’re the hero, you win a game, you play well,” Green said. “(If) you lose, you’re the worst team, you’re a scapegoat, you have to retire, you lost a lot of people some money on some bets. Ignore the media. Stay locked in as much as possible on what we need to do in our locker room, and stay even-keeled. Don’t get too high, don’t get too low. Stay the course and until the job is done, don’t celebrate early.”

Has that perspective changed at all now that the 34-year-old co-hosts a podcast, Inside the Green Room?

“Nah, it’s still the same,” Green said. “My podcast helps me with reps and everything like that but come playoff time, I try to block out the noise, ignore even some of the things I say on my podcast.

“But yes, we try to ignore and block out all media during this time so that we can stay locked in on what’s important in our locker room because everybody on the outside — from family to friends to media — is going to tell you what you should do, what you need to be doing. We need to be on the same page with what Coach is asking us to do and what we need to do to be successful. And sometimes, that’s giving yourself up on this or that — or playing more help defense, or playing more individual defense. Maybe not making yourself look as good on TV to the average fan. But it helps your team win.”

Green isn’t wrong about a player’s understanding being more nuanced than the casual fan’s. The Sixers, however, have a few players whose value tends to surge or plummet based on whether jumpers drop.

Georges Niang replaced Green early in the third quarter of Game 4 after the veteran wing picked up his fourth foul. Niang had his best game of a difficult personal series, going 21 minutes and scoring 10 points (3 for 6 from the field, 2 for 5 from three-point range), which exceeded his total from the prior three games.

And saying James Harden had his best fourth quarter of the series is like saying Miami is often warm.

In Games 1 through 3, Harden posted four fourth-period points on 1-for-7 shooting (0 for 3 from long distance). In Game 4, he came through over and over again with clutch step-back three-pointers and racked up 16 points in the fourth.

“Just took what the defense gave me,” Harden said. “Same shots, just made some. Nothing really changed, man. I made some shots. Obviously that’s a game-changer, just being aggressive. That group that started the fourth quarter did a really good job of pushing the lead up and doing what we were supposed to do.”

So, about that momentum … is it real? Os is everything inherently a bit fluky when each game matters so much and shooters run hot and cold?

It didn’t take long for Harden to name Embiid in describing his growing belief.

“We’re getting more confident as the series goes on,” Harden said. “Those first two games were a blur, but obviously having Jo and having our full team, we kind of know what to expect, we know where to execute on both ends of the ball. It just makes the job a lot easier.

“Think about it: We’re still damn near two months in. When we finally catch a rhythm and finally find something that works, Jo goes out for a couple of games. We’re finally settling into the series. We found some great things that worked tonight that we can capitalize on in Game 5.”

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