NBA: 76ers rout Heat as Embiid returns
LOS ANGELES – Philadelphia’s star center Joel Embiid returned from injury and the re-energized 76ers beat the Miami Heat 99-79 on Friday to claw back a game in their NBA playoff series.
Embiid missed the Sixers’ double-digit losses in the first two games after he suffered a concussion and orbital fracture in the first-round series-clinching win over Toronto.
With his return confirmed just shortly before tip-off in Philadelphia, Embiid scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the 76ers trimmed the deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series to 2-1.
“I tried to push as much as I can, I’m glad that we got the win,” said Embiid, who played in a protective mask but was still clearly hurting when he took a hand to the face late in the game.
Danny Green drained seven of his nine three-point attempts on the way to 21 points for Philadelphia. Tyrese Maxey scored all 21 of his points in a scintillating second-half performance.
Maxey picked up the slack after former MVP James Harden keyed the Sixers in the first half on the way to 17 points and eight assists.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 33 points. Tyler Herro added 14 off the bench but point guard Kyle Lowry, back after missing four games with a hamstring strain, didn’t score.
The 76ers avoided falling into a 3-0 hole. No NBA team has returned from a 3-0 deficit to win a best-of-seven series, and Philadelphia will try to level the series when they host game four on Sunday.
While Embiid took time throughout the game to wipe his face and the inside of the mask, he ran the court and didn’t shy away from contact, his presence making a difference in a Sixers defense that held Miami to their second-lowest points total of the season.
Embiid, who is also playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb, certainly showed signs of rust and, late in the game, fatigue.
Just play hard
The Cameroonian big man, who was unable to do conditioning work while suffering concussion symptoms during the week, said he expects to improve.
“I definitely wasn’t good tonight,” Embiid said. “You look at what I was able to do during the regular season, as far as getting myself going, getting my teammates going, I was not even close to what I can be.
“So hopefully it can get better over the next couple of days. As a team we’ve just got to move the ball, find the open man, and then defensively stay together and just play hard.”
Up by four after the first quarter, the Sixers led 41-32 at halftime and never trailed in the second half.
After the Heat tied it at 57-57 in the third quarter, Maxey made his first basket of the night — a three-pointer — then came up with a steal and a layup that pushed the lead to 62-57.
Embiid drove through traffic to score at the rim and Philadelphia took a 68-65 lead into the final period that they pushed to 75-65 in the opening minutes of the fourth.
Both teams sat their starters in the final minutes.
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