A masked Embiid returns to 76ers lineup to beat Heat

The Philadelphia 76ers were doing a good job of winning games without Joel Embiid, but now that he’s back they might be unstoppable. Embiid returned to Philadelphia’s lineup for Game 3 against the Miami Heat on Thursday sporting a mask to protect his fractured orbital bone, and he led the way in an impressively dominant 128-108 road win, suggesting the 76ers could be a real playoff threat in the Eastern Conference.

Embiid had been sidelined ever since colliding with Philadelphia rookie Markelle Fultz during a game near the end of March. In his absence, Ben Simmons became even more of an elite point guard option, averaging close to a triple-double to keep the 76ers’ winning streak alive into the playoffs. Miami ended that streak in Game 2, which prompted Embiid to go from Twitter photos jokingly calling himself The Phantom of the Process, to posting on Instagram about how he’s tired of being babied.

Philadelphia seemed to hear Embiid loud and clear, inserting him into the lineup for Thursday’s contest. He made an immediate impact at both ends of the floor, recording a team-high 23 points and three blocks despite breaking multiple masks while playing. The presence of Embiid led to a noticeable deduction in Miami’s points in the paint, and he drew all kinds of attention on offense, shooting a game-high 15 free throws. Simmons had an effective game alongside Embiid with 19 points, 12 rebounds, 7 assists, and 4 steals, while Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli added 21 points each.

The Heat kept pace with Philadelphia for three quarters, but the 76ers opened the fourth with a 9-1 scoring run and didn’t look back, outscoring Miami 32-14 in the quarter. Dwyane Wade was unable to reproduce his Game 2 magic, scoring 8 points in 25 minutes off the bench, and he got into an altercation with Philadelphia’s Justin Anderson in the second quarter that resulted in technical fouls for both players. The 76ers and the Heat combined for 56 personal fouls in Game 3 - the highest total yet in the series.

After the game Embiid suggested Philadelphia has a good chance to make the NBA Finals, and with him in the lineup that doesn’t seem so far-fetched.