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Bismack Biyombo stands up to MVP frontrunner Joel Embiid

Biyombo was huge Saturday night against a quality opponent

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Phoenix Suns Chris Coduto-USA TODAY Sports

Phoenix Suns center Bismack Biyombo faced a tall order Saturday night.

With usual Suns center Deandre Ayton out for the fourth straight game due to hip soreness, Biyombo was tasked to guard Philadelphia 76ers superstar Joel Embiid, who is very likely to win the NBA’s MVP award. Embiid, a 29-year old with grace and nimbleness in his game, was a big test for Biyombo, who is still 30 years old but perhaps may not have the natural athleticism of his opponent.

Biyombo, who is fighting for backup center minutes entering the postseason, thrived Saturday night. He had his best game of the season with 17 points, 13 rebounds and five blocks, something the Suns needed to pick up a much-needed 125-105 win at Footprint Center after they lost six of seven games.

“I think we tried to throw him different looks the whole night, obviously I had to guard him,” Biyombo said. “When you play a player like that, it is always a team effort. Thank God everything kind of worked out for us. We were really focused on helping out one another. I think everyone did a good job.”

Biyombo thrived in particular. He started the game in an unfavorable way with a layup that he short-armed, which hit the side of the backboard. Biyombo is not known as an offensive threat but still needs to be effective inside the paint for the Suns to maximize their capability on that end.

His impact picked up as the game went on. Biyombo was active in the Suns’ pick-and-roll sets and on the offensive glass. Phoenix backup guard Josh Okogie drove to the basket at one point during the second quarter and was blocked by Embiid, but Biyombo was right there to finish a putback.

Perhaps Biyombo’s best moment of the game came with 4:43 left in the third quarter, when he was able to counter Embiid’s crossover and behind-the-back move above the free-throw line with a tall block with his left hand. It was a huge play for momentum that allowed the Suns to close the third quarter strong and open the floodgates for a 36-22 fourth-quarter edge.

It was also great discipline against Embiid, who finished with 28 points – five below his season average – on just 8-of-19 shooting. The 76ers’ star center also had three turnovers and appeared to be uncomfortable against the Suns’ defensive sets and double teams.

“I thought the emotional stamina was in a good place because when you play against [Embiid], he’s going to draw contact and sometimes it’s frustrating when you’re playing great defense and a big dude like that is just running into you,” Suns coach Monty Williams said. “I thought we held the rope as far as mental stamina tonight. That helped us for sure. I thought the game plan discipline was really good. (Suns assistant coach) [Kevin Young] came in with a bit of a plan to try and mix it up on Jo and we’ve had a bit of different pick-and-roll coverage on the backside of our defense tonight to try and take away their pocket passes and a few incidents, it helped us, especially in the third, we got a couple of steals or we forced tough passes that led to transition opportunities for us.”

Biyombo’s role will be very important for the Suns come playoff time. He had a big impact Saturday and will be needed to back up Ayton along with Phoenix backup center Jock Landale, who can provide a different impact with his ability to play inside the paint and beyond the 3-point line offensively.

Biyombo’s impact is a little different. He is known for his shot-blocking ability and effort and will be needed to contain opposing big men throughout the playoffs. If Phoenix goes far, it could face Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic, a walking triple-double threat, or Los Angeles Lakers forward Anthony Davis, among others.

Biyombo’s game was a positive one, especially since the Suns’ bench also stepped up with 50 points compared to Philadelphia’s 14.

Phoenix will need Biyombo to continue to play hard. For now, he and the Suns will be content with a positive outing.

“I am glad we got a win tonight against a really good team,” Biyombo said. “Now, we just have to regroup tomorrow, watch film, correct our mistakes and adjust. We made some mistakes defensively, especially when you are guarding Joel, I think there are some fouls that I cannot give him. Meanwhile, I understand the frustration from the team perspective. We really are giving the other team a lot of fouls, and the refs are calling all types of fouls. Now it is knowing what cannot be given, and one is to be earned. I will go back and watch film to correct that and look forward to Utah.”

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