Maybe all it took for the fourth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers to crawl back into contention in their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the top-seeded Miami Heat was the presence of NBA scoring champion Joel Embiid.
Even Embiid at less than 100 percent was a significant factor in Philly’s 99-79 win Friday night that cut Miami’s series lead to 2-1. He scored 18 points and grabbed 11 rebounds, along with an emphatic late-game rejection that symbolized the change from the first two games to Game 3.
Embiid and the 76ers will try to even the series when they host the Heat on Sunday night in Game 4.
After averaging 112.5 points in scoring 14- and 16-point wins at home, the Heat went cold on the road. They hit only 35.1 percent from the field, including a miserable 7 of 30 from 3-point range (23.3 percent). And their defense and rebounding failed to pick up the slack.
It didn’t help that they had to contend with Embiid for the first time in the series.
Although he was held 12 points under his 30.6 scoring average, Embiid still brought drastic improvement just by being out there. Danny Green came alive from the perimeter, burying seven 3-pointers, and Tyrese Maxey followed up a 34-point Game 2 with 21 more on Friday night.
“Any plan where you can have Joel as part of the plan is a much better plan,” said 76ers coach Doc Rivers. “I knew his presence would have an impact. I was positive of that.”
Embiid missed the games in Miami with a right orbital fracture and concussion suffered during a series-clinching victory in the first round at Toronto. He was already playing with a thumb injury that will require postseason surgery.
But he was cleared by doctors to play on Thursday and was just effective enough to give Philadelphia its first momentum of the series.
“You add Joel to any team, home or away, the game, the scouting report, it changes drastically,” said Heat forward Jimmy Butler. “It’s been like that for his entire career.”
Butler did his share and then some to pull Miami across the finish line, with 33 points on 12-of-22 shooting and nine rebounds, but he didn’t get enough help. Only Tyler Herro joined him in double figures and it took him 15 shots to score his 14 points.
Bam Adebayo was a non-entity in his 33 minutes, making just 2-of-9 shots, scoring nine points while grabbing only three rebounds. Aside from Butler, the Heat starters scored just 22 points and were a combined 7 of 27 from the field.
Miami did get Kyle Lowry back from a hamstring strain that sidelined him for the final two games of its series win over Atlanta and the first two games against the 76ers. But Lowry played like someone chipping off rust, missing all four of his shots and not scoring in his 25 minutes on the floor.
Regardless of who plays, though, the big story in this series is the big man who’s injected life into Philadelphia’s once-flagging hopes.
“We have a good chance to win it all,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to stay healthy.”
–Field Level Media