PHILADELPHIA – Joel Embiid inspired the 76ers with his return from a facial injury, Danny Green and Tyrese Maxey each scored 21 points and Philadelphia beat the Miami Heat 99-79 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals on Friday night.
Wearing a black mask, Embiid had 18 points and 11 rebounds after missing the first two games of the series.
Jimmy Butler scored 33 points for the Heat, who lead the series 2-1. Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia.
Embiid sat out the first two games with a right orbital fracture and a mild concussion suffered in the last round. Embiid wasn’t the dominant force he was throughout the season. With Green, Maxey and James Harden all crushing Heat rallies with big buckets, Embiid didn’t have to carry the Sixers.
But the 76ers sure were glad he was back.
“Any plan where you can have Joel as part of the plan is a much better plan,” coach Doc Rivers said before the game.
Even Rivers couldn’t draw up a plan that included the play that helped put away the game: Maxey made a full-court sprint to save a basketball with an over-the-shoulder toss. The 76ers kept the ball and Embiid buried a fallaway bucket and sank the free throw for an 86-74 lead.
Embiid was good. Green was better. Green buried made 6 of 7 3-pointers through three quarters, highlighted by ones that snuffed Miami runs and stretched the Sixers’ lead to 54-50 and 57-51. Green missed 9 of 10 3s in Game 2.
Tyler Herro, though, had two critical 3s of his own in the final minute and pulled the Heat to 68-65 to close the third. He had 14 and joined Butler as the only Heat in double digits.
Maxey’s last 3-pointer made it 92-77, and, suddenly, the Sixers have new life in the series.
The 76ers have never won a playoff series in 19 tries after losing the first two games.
The NBA scoring champ’s return kind of helps those odds.
Embiid’s status was upgraded from out to doubtful leading into the game, and Philly was buzzing the big man would play. When he jogged out for warm-ups wearing the mask, Sixers fans erupted and started the “MVP! MVP!” chants that are a staple at the arena. When Sixers public address announcer Matt Cord announced “there are no injuries” on the pregame report, Sixers fans went wild. Embiid easily heard the loudest ovation during lineup introductions and the Sixers were energized by his presence. It was hard to tell at times Embiid had missed so much time.
“Because of the concussion stuff, he couldn’t do anything,” Rivers said. “So he’s not been able to run and doing other stuff that all of us great athletes would be doing.”
Embiid is still playing with a right thumb ligament injury that will require off-season surgery. Embiid – who led the 76ers with 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds this season – effected Game 3 just by his presence. Miami All-Star centre Bam Adebayo, who scored 24 points in Game 1 and 23 in Game 2, was held to just five in the first half.
Harden even shone with 15 points in the half after games of 16 and 20 points in the series. He finished with 17.
Mavericks 103, Suns 94
DALLAS – Luka Doncic had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and the Dallas Mavericks turned up the defensive pressure to get back in their Western Conference semi-final series with Phoenix, beating the Suns 103-94 on Friday night.
The Mavericks spoiled Chris Paul’s 37th birthday, forcing the 17-year pro into his most turnovers in any half of a playoff game with seven before the break.
Dallas cut the Suns’ series lead to 2-1 and ended an 11-game losing streak against Phoenix, regular season included. Game 4 is Sunday in Dallas.
Paul didn’t have any more turnovers after halftime, but the Suns finally struggled with their shooting when they weren’t turning it over. Phoenix shot 45%, ending a run of at least 50% shooting in the playoffs at eight games.
Doncic just missed a triple-double with nine assists, while Jalen Brunson led Dallas with 28 points after struggling in the two losses in Phoenix when Doncic averaged 40 points but didn’t get enough help.
Jae Crowder scored 19 for Phoenix, but the Mavericks limited the impacted of Devin Booker in much the same way they did Paul. Booker scored 18 but was just 2 of 7 inside the 3-point line, and Paul had 12 on just nine shots (five made).
A scrambling Dallas defence was the reason, starting from the opening tip with Reggie Bullock shadowing Paul everywhere. The Mavericks stepped into passing lanes, including when Spencer Dinwiddie tiptoed along the sideline after a steal for a layup in transition.
Paul had six turnovers in the first 16 minutes, including one when he simply lost the ball out bounds trying to work his way to the basket. The only Dallas turnover before halftime was an offensive foul on Doncic, who disliked the call enough to mimic what he thought were flopping movements by Paul.
Doncic had to leave with his fifth foul early in the fourth quarter, and the Suns cut an 18-point deficit earlier in the second half to nine just after he came back.
Brunson answered with free throws to get the lead back to double digits, and the Mavericks got enough stops in their best defensive effort of the series to stay comfortably in front.
The lead was eight when Doncic kept Crowder from getting a steal near midcourt with a minute remaining, leading to a corner 3 with from Bullock, who scored 15. He and Dorian Finney-Smith, who scored 14, had four 3s each.