Embiid’s return for 76ers changes dynamic of Heat series

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid warms up  before Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Philadelphia 76ers' Joel Embiid warms up before Game 3 of an NBA basketball second-round playoff series against the Miami Heat, Friday, May 6, 2022, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Joel Embiid’s final line in the box score looked a bit pedestrian compared to his usual MVP numbers. But the Philadelphia 76ers center played Game 3 anyway. With a thumb that needs a surgery. With a broken face. And just days after suffering a concussion.

His mere presence in the lineup changed the 76ers’ fortunes in Game 3 — and perhaps their chances against Miami in the Eastern Conference semifinals.

The 76ers are not only alive but Embiid is well enough to make them 2-point favorites in Sunday’s Game 4, according to FanDuel Sportsbook.

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The Heat had some company when it came to dropping Game 3 on the road. Luka Doncic had 26 points and 13 rebounds and helped the Dallas Mavericks get back in their series against the Phoenix Suns with a victory.

The Heat and Suns lead their respective series 2-1.

“Down 2-0, I had to do really everything possible to be out there, no matter how I was feeling,” Embiid said.

Embiid tightened the 76ers’ defense and helped open the lane for Tyrese Maxey and the outside for Danny Green. Both players scored 21 points and showed how everyone on the Sixers benefits with Embid in the lineup. Embiid is playing with a mask because of a right orbital fracture — and during breaks in action, he constantly lifted the mask and wiped sweat off his face — in the foreseeable future.

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But with the season at stake, Embiid knows how vital he is to a 76ers’ championship run. He had 18 points and 11 rebounds on 5-of-12 shooting from the floor in 36 minutes.

“I didn’t think I had a lot of energy, honestly,” he said. “I was really trying to really get through it. Kind of, you just use my presence out there as a decoy. I feel like I pride myself really defensively. And I feel like that’s where my presence is really felt. On the defensive end. So that’s one of the main reasons why playing I thought I could have a huge impact.”

Embiid’s return after sitting out the first two games only added to Miami’s misery. The Heat missed 23 of 30 3-point attempts, were outrebounded and had only two players in double-digit scoring.

“He’s been like that for his entire career, but that’s not really the reason why we lost that game,” guard Jimmy Butler said. “We didn’t get back, we turned the ball over, we didn’t get stops, we fouled, there was a lot that went into that, but he is a big part of it.”

Dallas ended an 11-game losing streak against Phoenix, regular season included. The Mavericks limited the impact of Devin Booker in much the same way they did Chris Paul. Booker scored 18 but was just 2 of 7 inside the 3-point line. Paul had 12 points on 5-of-9 shooting in the Suns’ lowest-scoring game of the season. Paul also had seven turnovers.

“You’re up two games and you know they’re going to come out and hit you in the mouth, but I thought we could have settled down a little bit more on offense,” Suns coach Monty Williams said.

HEAT AT 76ERS

Heat lead 2-1 Game 4, 8 p.m. EDT, TNT

— NEED TO KNOW: The 76ers held Miami to 79 points, the first time a playoff team scored fewer than 80 since the 2012 postseason. Philadelphia held Miami to just 14 points in the final quarter, marking the 10th time since 1980 that the team has held its opponent to 15 or fewer points in the fourth quarter of a postseason game.

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Danny Green. He snapped out of a slump in a big way, making 7 of 9 3-pointers and scoring 21 points. The 76ers get offensive production from Tyrese Maxey and James Harden in spurts. A reliable Green could go a long way.

— INJURY WATCH: Other than Embiid, Kyle Lowry returned for the Miami Heat after missing four games with a hamstring injury. Lowry missed all four shots and went scoreless in 25 minutes. The Heat had won all four games in Lowry’s absence. “I didn’t expect to be amazing,” Lowry said. “I didn’t expect to have zero points.”

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Heat. It’s impossible not to imagine it could be the Sixers going for the sweep on Sunday had Embiid played in the first two games. But the Heat could still have two more home games in the series and a road win would clearly put them in control of the series. The 76ers haven’t advanced out of the second round since 2001.

MAVERICKS AT SUNS

Suns lead 2-1. Game 4, 3:30 p.m. EDT, ESPN

— NEED TO KNOW: The Suns fell short of 50% shooting for the first time in the playoffs in Game 3, finishing at 45% to end an eight-game run. They also had a hard time getting shots for Paul and Booker. The pair combined for just 22 shots while two complementary scorers behind Doncic, Dorian Finney-Smith and Reggie Bullock, attempted 21 3-pointers and made eight (four apiece).

— KEEP AN EYE ON: Deandre Ayton’s numbers were solid in Game 3 (16 points, 11 rebounds), but he wasn’t the force that helped the Suns cruise in the series opener. His overall efficiency is down as well. Ayton is shooting 55% against the Mavericks after finishing at 70% in the six-game victory over New Orleans.

— INJURY WATCH: Dallas F Maxi Kleber keeps on plugging through physical challenges. He played 32 minutes after a scary fall on his back, shoulders and neck in Game 2. Then he came out of Game 3 with a little shadow under his left eye after a collision when he tried to block a dunk attempt from Mikal Bridges.

— PRESSURE IS ON: The Suns don’t even want to think about what happened the last time they had a 2-0 lead. It was the NBA Finals last year, when Milwaukee answered with four consecutive wins. Now’s the time for the defending West champs to put the Mavericks on the brink of elimination in Dallas’ first trip past the first round since winning the title 11 years ago.

Saturdays just got more interesting.

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