TORONTO — Every NBA star has demons to overcome. Joel Embiid finally got his.
The MVP candidate buried a turnaround three-pointer with 0.8 seconds to play to lift the 76ers to 104-101 overtime victory in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series against the Toronto Raptors.
This marked the Sixers’ first playoff game here at Scotiabank Arena since Kawhi Leonard’s 15-foot fadeaway jumper at the buzzer lifted the Raptors to a 92-90 victory in Game 7 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series. Back then, Embiid had a horrible shooting night. He made just 6 of 18, including going 1-for-6 on three-pointers.
Toronto has also historically been a tough matchup for Embiid. He’s shot just 42.2% from the field — including 26.8% on three-pointers — in 17 career regular-season games against the Raptors.
Embiid’s recent heroics have the potential to erase all those demons, especially that heartbreaking Game 7 playoff loss. Just don’t tell that to Embiid.
“It’s just the first round to me,” he said. “Honestly, I haven’t really thought about what happened three years ago [in the playoffs]. Obviously, the shot makes me feel good about what kind of happened. But during this whole series, I haven’t really thought about coming in here and trying to get my revenge. I think I’m more focused about trying to win the whole thing, one game at a time, and trying to do whatever’s necessary to get us there.”
But Embiid did admit that this victory was special.
He finished with game highs of 33 points and 13 rebounds to go with one block. Eighteen of his points came in the third quarter.
This time, he made the game-winner instead of watching Leonard make one in front of him.
The All-Star small forward was originally guarded by Ben Simmons until Embiid left Pascal Siakam and cut Simmons off. Leonard dribbled to the corner and fired up a shot over Embiid as time expired. His high-arcing shot hit the rim four times before dropping into the basket. Leonard was immediately mobbed in front of the Raptors bench.
Meanwhile, Embiid was crying on the court after the first buzzer-beater in a Game 7 in league history. He had to be consoled by Raptors center Marc Gasol on his way to the locker room.
This game was different.
“It felt great,” Embiid said. “Obviously we know what happened a couple of years ago. It just felt great. I just knew that coming in here tonight, it was going to be a tough place. Obviously, it’s always a tough place to play, especially in the playoffs. They got great fans, they’re loud.”
The sellout crowd of 19,000 booed Embiid whenever he touched the ball. However, he silenced the fans with his huge shot in the closing second.
“I know coming into Toronto I was definitely going to be the bad guy for quite some time. So I just wanted to come out and let the game come to me. But it felt great, but the job is not done.”
Embiid had his right thumb in a brace. He said he doesn’t know exactly how it happened. Embiid felt pain in his thumb during the game.
“I think I might have twisted it,” he said. “So we are going to see what’s going on tomorrow.”
Does he think the thumb injury will keep him out of Saturday’s Game 4?
“No,” he said. “No chance. No.”
After Wednesday’s game, Embiid told Raptors fan and musician Drake that he was “coming for the sweep, too.”