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3 Observations: Embiid Returns, Sixers Grab Huge Win in Game 3

By Matt Gregan, Sports Talk Philly Staff Writer

It was a case of deja vu for the Philadelphia 76ers. Four years ago, Joel Embiid returned from an orbital fracture in Game 3 of the Sixers' first round playoff series against the Miami Heat. On Friday night in front of a packed house at the Wells Fargo Center, Embiid returned from the very same injury (with a concussion added on) for Game 3 of the Sixers' second round series against the Heat.

He played through obvious discomfort while wearing a protective face mask, scoring 18 points and grabbing 11 rebounds to help the Sixers capture their first win of the series, 99-79.

Tyrese Maxey scored 21 points, with all of them coming in the second half. Danny Green set a new season-high with 21 points while knocking down seven of his nine attempts from beyond the arc. The Sixers, in large part due to Green's hot shooting, recovered from two extremely poor shooting games to knock down 48.5 percent of their threes in Game 3.

Jimmy Butler led the Heat with 33 points. Kyle Lowry returned to the lineup for the first time this series after missing the opening two games with a left hamstring strain.

Game 4 is at 8 p.m. on Sunday. Here is three observations from the win in Game 3:

Embiid grinds it out

The Sixers, predictably, looked like a completely different team in Game 3 with Embiid on the court. His presence impacts all areas of the game, and his rebounding and defense took center stage in Game 3.

Inside defense, specifically on the pick-and-roll, has been an issue for the Sixers in the first two games of this series. Embiid's defensive presence completely changed the picture. Miami was hesitant to attack towards the paint, settling for a lot of inefficient mid-range shots when they previously would have been able to get a relatively clean look at the rim. Bam Adebayo, who had been having an excellent series up to this point, was completely shut down by Embiid. Adebayo finished the game with nine points on 2-of-9 shooting to go with three rebounds.

Embiid also spearheaded a stronger, more concerted effort by the Sixers to hit the glass. He grabbed a team leading 11 rebounds to help the team out-rebound Miami 44-35. Offensive rebounding had also been a major area of weakness in the first two games of the series. While Miami still won that battle, the Sixers were able to keep it close at 10-8.

On the offensive end, it was clear Embiid was not himself. He had no touch on his jumpers, even air balling one in the second quarter. However, he did a good job playing with physicality and using his size advantage to seal off defenders when he got deep post position. The Sixers could have done a better job getting him the ball at times when he had post position, but the Heat did a solid job attempting to deny the entry pass into the post.

While Embiid admittedly did not have his best game offensively, the fact he was even out on the floor one week after suffering a concussion and playing through multiple injuries is a testament to his toughness and grit.

Tough physical, defensive game

Playing against a tough team like the Heat will inherently involve some physicality, toughness and defense. Game 3 showcased all of those in spades. The two teams combined to score 74 points in the first half, with the Sixers holding the Heat to their second-lowest point total in a first half (34) this season. Embiid's presence defensively certainly changed things for the Sixers, but it was really a team-wide effort on that end of the floor in Game 3.

Matisse Thybulle, who had looked completely lost on both ends of the floor throughout the entire playoffs, reminded people why he was a second-team All-Defensive selection in the 2020-21 season. He was incredibly active defensively, doing a good job helping keep Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro from getting anything going. He might have finished with just one steal and a block, but his defensive impact was much greater than the box score shows.

Tobias Harris also put together a grind it out performance for the Sixers. His shot was not falling, he scored nine points on 4-of-13 shooting, but he dug down and produced well in multiple other areas. He hit the glass hard, grabbing 10 rebounds, while also dishing out eight assists and continuing to play solid defense resulting in two steals. In what could turn into a down and dirty series, having Harris be able to produce in multiple ways even when his shot is off like it was in Game 3 is huge.

The Sixers did a great job stepping up defensively as a team, holding the Heat to 79 points on 35.1 percent shooting from the field and 23.3 percent shooting from beyond the arc. They held the Heat to under 20 points in all but the third quarter. It was their best defensive performance of the series and will be something the team definitely looks to build off of moving forward.

Things began to get chippy throughout the second half, and it bubbled over in a scuffle between Thybulle and P.J. Tucker early in the fourth quarter.

The play resulted in technical fouls on both Thybulle and Tucker while proving to be an example of how physical and chippy this series could become.

Maxey carries Sixers in second half

The Sixers' offense in the first half generally was not pretty, although when they had success it mostly came at the hands of James Harden. He did a good job forcing the issue in the first half by attacking the basket and not settling for contested step-back threes. He scored 15 points on 3-of-6 shooting while knocking down all eight of his attempts from the free-throw line in the first half. However, he struggled to control the basketball, committing four turnovers in the first half. He also struggled with foul trouble, committing his fourth foul of the game with 8:12 left in the third quarter.

The Sixers began to pull away early in the second half, building up a 51-37 lead with 8:26 remaining in the third quarter. However, after Harden left the floor due to foul trouble the Heat went on a 20-6 run, leaving the game tied at 57 with 3:08 remaining in the quarter. Maxey then stepped up in a big way. After going scoreless on three shot attempts in the first half, he got it going to spur a personal 5-0 run. He made his first shot of the game on a catch-and-shoot three with 2:49 left in the third quarter and followed it up with a steal and a contested finish in transition.

The 21-year old continued to prove he is an explosive young star in this league. His 5-0 run was only the beginning. He helped the Sixers pull away from the Heat in a fourth quarter in which the Sixers outscored Miami 31-14. He knocked down threes from all over the court on his way to scoring 14 points on perfect 5-of-5 shooting (4 of 4 from three-point range) in the fourth quarter alone.

Maxey's quickness and hustle also kickstarted the sequence that broke Miami's back with just over five minutes remaining in the game:

The sequence gave the Sixers an 11-point lead that the team would only go on to expand over the final four minutes and change left in the game. The Sixers, through Embiid's return to the court, a dominant defensive effort and a magical fourth quarter from Maxey, breathed life back into their chances in this series.

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