NBA playoffs: Joel Embiid returns, helps 76ers roll; Mavericks defeat Suns
Joel Embiid inspired Philadelphia with his return from a facial injury, Danny Green and Tyrese Maxey each scored 21 points, and the host 76ers beat the Miami Heat 99-79 in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals 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 because of 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 (17 points) all crushing Heat rallies with big buckets, Embiid didn’t have to carry the Sixers.
But the 76ers sure were glad he was back.
“We have a good chance to win it all,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to stay healthy.”
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Embiid was good. Green was better. Green buried six of seven three-point tries through three quarters, highlighted by ones that snuffed Miami runs and stretched the Sixers’ lead to 54-50 and 57-51. Green missed nine of 10 threes in Game 2.
Tyler Herro, though, had two critical threes of his own in the final minute and pulled the Heat to within 68-65 to close the third. He had 14 points and joined Butler as the only Heat player in double-digit scoring.
Maxey’s last three-pointer made it 92-77, and, suddenly, the Sixers have new life in the series.
“You add Jo to any team, home or away, the game, the scouting report, it changes drastically,” Butler said. “It’s been like that for his entire career.”
The 76ers have never won a playoff series in 19 tries after losing the first two games.
The NBA scoring champion’s return helps those odds.
“Even when he’s not his normal self, he helps us a ton,” Green said.
Embiid’s status was upgraded from out to doubtful leading into the game, and Philly was buzzing that the big man would play. When he jogged out for warmups 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 that Embiid had missed so much time.
“I knew his presence would have an impact,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. “I was positive of that.”
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Embiid is still playing with a right thumb ligament injury that will require offseason surgery.
“It’s about doing whatever possible to protect it as much as possible,” Embiid said.
Embiid — who led the 76ers with 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds this season — affected Game 3 just by his presence. Miami All-Star center Bam Adebayo, who scored 24 points in Game 1 and 23 in Game 2, was held to five in the first half.
“I was really [angry] watching another big man play well against my team,” Embiid said.
Embiid had a laugh, though, after the game on social media. He tweeted a picture of “The Wire” character Stringer Bell with a quote from the scene in the show: “I want you to put the word out that we back up.”
The big man is indeed back up — and so are the 76ers.
“This is what you have to expect,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “He’s an MVP-caliber player.”
at Mavericks 103, Suns 94
Luka Doncic had 26 points and 13 rebounds, and host Dallas turned up the defensive pressure to get back in its Western Conference semifinal series with Phoenix, beating the Suns in Game 3.
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 in which 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 two for seven inside the three-point line, and Paul had 12 points on just nine shots (five made).
A scrambling Dallas defense 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.
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