Joel Embiid’s return to the playoffs put the Philadelphia 76ers right back in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Miami Heat.
Playing for the first time since sustaining a facial fracture and concussion in the deciding Game 6 against Toronto in the first round, Embiid provided the necessary lift to help the Sixers defeat Miami 99-79 on Friday.
Embiid had 18 points and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes. James Harden scored 17 points, and Danny Green had an important 21 points — all on 3-pointers. Tyrese Maxey added 21 points as the Sixers’ starters outscored the Heat’s starters 86-55.
Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia (8 p.m. ET, TNT), with the Sixers in position to send the series back to Miami tied at 2-2.
Here are the key takeaways from Game 3:
Embiid’s significant return
Embiid started the day listed as out on the NBA’s official injury report and had not cleared concussion protocols. By mid-morning, he had cleared them and participated in the team’s morning, and by 12:30 p.m. ET, Embiid was upgraded to doubtful. After going through pregame workouts, Embiid was ruled in.
He had a solid game considering the circumstances — not bad for a guy coming off a head and face injury and a torn ligament in his right (shooting) thumb.
Playing with a face mask, Embiid was 5-for-12 shooting. The Sixers are clearly better with a limited Embiid than no Embiid at all. For the first time in the series, the Sixers outrebounded Miami, thanks to Embiid and Tobias Harris (10 rebounds).
Offense was Miami’s problem
With 4:24 left in the fourth quarter, just one Heat starter had double digits in points — Jimmy Butler, who finished with 33 points and nine rebounds. He couldn’t save the day by himself.
The Heat shot 35.1% from the field and 23.3% on 3-pointers.
Give Philadelphia’s defense credit.
Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, who were productive in the first two games in Miami, struggled. Herro had had 14 points on 5-for-15 shooting, and Adebayo had nine points and three rebounds after averaging 23.5 points and 10.5 rebounds in the first two games.
Harden contributes just enough
Harden was just 4-for-11 from the field, including 1-for-7 on 3s. He had eight rebounds and six assists. But he had a better first step, was able to drive to the basket, score in the paint a bit and get to the foul line, making 8-for-8 on free throws.
Still, the Sixers need more from him if they want to increase their chances of winning the series.
The very important 3-ball
Old codgers like veteran sportswriter Bob Ryan can bemoan how the 3-point shot has ruined the game. It’s not going away, and it continues to have an impact on who wins.
Green’s 7-for-9 shooting on 3s helped the Sixers to a 68-65 lead after three quarters.
The Sixers shot 48.5% on 3s, going 16-for-33, while the Heat made just seven 3s — a 27-point difference.
Miami guard Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain) also made his series debut after missing the final two games of the first round against Atlanta and the first two games of this series.
He didn’t score, missed his four shot attempts and had four rebounds and three assists.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.