After struggling in the first two games of the series, Joel Embiid came alive for the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3.
In 28 minutes of play, the two-time All-Star scored 33 points on 9-for-18 shooting from the field. Not only did that tie him with Kawhi Leonard for game-high honours, it was more points than he combined to score in Games 1 and 2 in Toronto.
It helped the 76ers outscore the Raptors by 31 points when he was on the court, giving Embiid the highest plus/minus of the game.
Unlike the first two games, where he had most of his success against Serge Ibaka, Embiid did most of his damage against Marc Gasol. According to NBA.com, 23 of his 33 points came with Gasol guarding him compared to only four points when he was matched up with Ibaka.
His other four points came against Kyle Lowry and Danny Green.
Gasol actually did a decent job once again of defending Embiid in the post, holding him to 2-for-8 shooting from 2-point range, but Embiid was able to get himself going from the perimeter for the first time in these playoffs. He knocked down three of his four 3-point attempts in Game 3, with each of his makes coming against Gasol.
While Embiid was able to punish the Raptors from deep in this particular game, those are the types of shots Toronto will likely live him with taking. After making 36.7 percent of his 3-point attempts as a rookie - an exceptional mark for a centre - Embiid shot 30.4 percent from the perimeter as a sophomore.
Embiid was around that mark again this season, having made 30.0 percent of his 3-point attempts.
TAKEAWAYS: Game 1 | Game 2 | Game 3
Prior to Game 3, Embiid had been even worse in these playoffs. Through four games against the Nets and two against the Raptors, he had made only 21.1 percent of his 3-point attempts.
It got so bad that the Nets basically treated Embiid like Ben Simmons in their first-round series with the 76ers by dropping his defender to the paint.
Embiid, of course, becomes much tougher to defend if teams have to respect him from the 3-point line because he's more than capable of putting the ball on the floor and finishing strong at the rim.
He put that on full display in the fourth quarter, when he punctuated the win by throwing down a windmill after getting Gasol to bite on a pump fake.
Embiid almost did the same to Pascal Siakam in the third quarter, although he was fouled by Gasol on a dunk attempt.
That foul led to two of 13 free throws Embiid attempted on the night, of which he made 12.
Embiid set the tone in that regard in the opening minutes of the game by drawing a shooting foul on Gasol on a post-up. He then bullied Gasol on another post-up a few possessions later for his seventh point of the game.
Gasol tried to poke the ball away on Embiid's post-up, but he wasn't able to prevent him from getting an uncontested layup, likely because he was focused on not committing a second foul within only three minutes of play.
Had he picked up a second foul, it would've forced Raptors head coach Nick Nurse to make the tough decision of keeping Gasol out there or giving Ibaka an extended run against Embiid.
While Gasol finished with only three fouls, he was involved in more of the plays in which Embiid earned free throws.
Another way Embiid and the 76ers attacked Gasol was in pick-and-rolls. Embiid doesn't usually score much as the roll man, but the 76ers involved him in more pick-and-rolls in Game 3.
As versatile of a defender as Gasol is, he doesn't quite have the foot speed to switch or hedge high and recover in pick-and-rolls. The 76ers got a taste of that in Game 2, when backup centre Greg Monroe gave them a boost off the bench with most of his points coming on rolls to the basket.
"To have a steady diet of just forcing [Embiid] out of post in a very static and predictable way isn't fair to him and I don't think it helps us," 76ers head coach Brett Brown said after the game. "The plan was to find different ways to get him going."
All in all, Embiid scored 21 of his 33 points from the free throw line or 3-point line. In Games 1 and 2, he scored only 16 of his 28 points from those areas.
When he's knocking down 3s and getting to the free throw line, there isn't much anyone - including Gasol - can do to slow Embiid down.
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