LOS ANGELES (AFP) — Philadelphia’s star center Joel Embiid returned from injury to help the reenergized 76ers beat the Miami Heat 99-79 on Friday, clawing back a game in their National Basketball Association (NBA) playoff series.
Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks also avoided falling into a 3-0 hole with a 103-94 victory over the Phoenix Suns.
Embiid missed the Sixers’ double-digit losses in the first two games against Miami after he suffered a concussion and orbital fracture in the first-round, series-clinching win over Toronto.
With his return confirmed just shortly before tip-off in Philadelphia, Embiid scored 18 points and pulled down 11 rebounds as the 76ers trimmed the deficit in the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series to 2-1.
“I tried to push as much as I can, I’m glad that we got the win,” said Most Valuable Player (MVP) candidate Embiid, who played in a protective mask but was still clearly hurting when he took a hand to the face late in the game.
Danny Green drained seven of his nine three-point attempts on the way to 21 points for Philadelphia. Tyrese Maxey scored all 21 of his points in a scintillating second-half performance.
Maxey picked up the slack after former MVP James Harden keyed the Sixers before the break, when he scored 15 of his 17 points.
Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 33 points. Tyler Herro added 14 off the bench but point guard Kyle Lowry, back after missing four games with a hamstring strain, didn’t score.
While Embiid took time throughout the game to wipe his face and the inside of the mask, he ran the court and didn’t shy away from contact, his presence making a difference in a Sixers defense that held Miami to their second-lowest points total of the season.
Embiid, who is also playing with torn ligaments in his right thumb, certainly showed signs of rust and, late in the game, fatigue.
The Cameroonian, who was unable to do conditioning work while suffering concussion symptoms during the week, said he expects to improve.
“I didn’t think I had a lot of energy, honestly,” said Embiid, who said he dealt with “a bunch” of concussion symptoms during the week. “I was really trying to really get through it and kind of just use my presence out there as a decoy.”