Joel Embiid’s return to the playoffs put the Philadelphia 76ers back in their Eastern Conference semifinal against the Miami Heat.
Playing for the first time since suffering a facial fracture and concussion in the deciding Game 6 against Toronto in the first round, Embiid provided the lift needed 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 all-important 21 points, all on 3-pointers. Tyrese Maxey added 21 points as the Sixers starters outscored the Heat starters 86-55.
Game 4 is Sunday in Philadelphia (8 p.m. ET, TNT), with the Sixers in position to send the series to Miami tied 2-2.
Here are the main takeaways from Game 3:
The significant return of Embiid
Embiid started the day listed on the official NBA injury report and had not cleared concussion protocols. By mid-morning, he’d cleared them and participated in team morning, and by 12:30 p.m. ET, Embiid had moved up to doubtful. After going through pre-match practices, Embiid was put on trial.
He had a solid game considering the circumstances – not bad for a guy who suffered a head and face injury and a torn ligament in his right thumb (which shoots).
Playing with a face mask, Embiid was shooting 5 for 12. The Sixers are clearly better with limited Embiid than no Embiid at all. For the first time in the series, the Sixers overtook Miami, thanks to Embiid and Tobias Harris (10 rebounds).
The offense was Miami’s problem
With 4:24 left in the fourth quarter, only one Heat starter had double digits in points — Jimmy Butler, who finished with 33 points and nine rebounds. He couldn’t save the day on his own.
The Heat shot 35.1 percent from the field and 23.3 percent from 3-point range.
Give credit to the Philadelphia defense.
Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo, who were productive in the first two games in Miami, struggled. Herro 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 took a better first step, was able to drive to the basket, score a little in the paint and reach the foul line, going 8 for 8 on free throws.
Still, the Sixers need more of him if they want to increase their chances of winning the series.
The very important 3 ball
Old bonzes like veteran sportswriter Bob Ryan may lament how the 3-point shot ruined the game. It’s not going away and it continues to impact who wins.
Green’s 7-for-9 shot of 3 helped the Sixers take a 68-65 lead after three quarters.
The Sixers shot 48.5 percent from 3, or 16 for 33, while the Heat had just seven 3s, a difference of 27 points.
Miami guard Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain) also made his series debut after missing the last two games of the first round against Atlanta and the first two games of this series.
He didn’t score, missed all four of his shot attempts, and had four rebounds and three assists.
Follow Jeff Zillgitt on Twitter @JeffZillgitt.