Masked Embiid saves the day for 76ers

Published May 8, 2022, 5:00 PMRenee Ticzon

Joel Embiid’s return brought life to the 76ers, who avoided falling into a 0-3 hole with their big man back at the forefront.

The Philadelphia 76ers made this series a lot more interesting with the return of Joel Embiid.

Embiid was absent in the Sixers’ two playoff losses in the second round because of a right orbital fracture and concussion that he sustained in the previous series against the Toronto Raptors. This was on top of the torn ligament in his right thumb, which he has been playing through for quite some time. Because of his concussion, Embiid was forced to rest in the six days he was sidelined. He did not have any activity as advised by his medical team.

So when Embiid returned for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals, he barely had any time to recover, but he also had no time to prepare for a very crucial game. The result? Embiid dropped a double-double of 18 points and 11 rebounds.

But more than his statistics, which were incredible for someone suffering multiple injuries, what his presence did to the team set him apart. This was the first game that both teams had a full lineup – the 76ers had Embiid and the Heat also saw the return of Kyle Lowry. 

Embiid elevated the 76ers’ defense as soon as he stepped on the court. The Heat still led in second-chance points, but there was quite a disparity on how many came through. In Game 2, the Heat had 21 while they only made 15 in Game 3. Embiid’s presence in the paint was enough to disrupt Miami’s offense.

There were only two members of the Heat that went into double-digits, and it was a steep difference. Jimmy Butler finished with 33, followed by Tyler Herro who only had 14. Everyone else scored nine and below.

Embiid was able to keep up with the Heat’s physicality despite playing with multiple injuries. In the opening minutes of the match, Embiid was bodied by Max Strus. This was exactly what happened the entire game. It felt like Miami was taking turns going hard on Embiid, but the injured MVP candidate was unbothered by it.

Of course, with good defense comes a ton of momentum on the offensive side. Four players went into double figures. James Harden had 17 points, eight rebounds, and six assists. Tyrese Maxey and Danny Green both had 21 points.

With Embiid finally back in rotation, it’s going to be a much more exciting series before the Eastern Conference Finals.