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Embiid returns from injury, 76ers beat Heat 99-79 in Game Three

PHILADELPHIA (AP) – Joel Embiid spent the week groggy from a concussion. His busted thumb needs surgery.

MVP form? Not yet.

But Embiid wore his black mask and injected the 76ers – and a skittish fanbase – with revitalised championship aspirations.

Embiid inspired the 76ers with his return from a facial injury, Danny Green and Tyrese Maxey each scored 21 points and Philadelphia beat the Miami Heat 99-79 in Game Three of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Friday night.

“We have a good chance to win it all,” Embiid said. “We’ve got to stay healthy.”

The Heat lead the series 2-1.

Wearing a hammer-tested mask, Embiid had 18 points and 11 rebounds after missing the first two games of the series with a right orbital fracture and a mild concussion suffered in the last round.

Embiid wasn’t the dominant force he was throughout the season and tired as the game went on. With Green, Maxey and James Harden all crushing Heat rallies with big buckets, Embiid didn’t have to carry the Sixers.

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid goes up for a shot against Miami Heat’s Max Strus during the first half of Game Three. PHOTO: AP

But the 76ers sure were glad he was back.

“Any plan where you can have Joel as part of the plan is a much better plan,” coach Doc  Rivers said.

Even Rivers couldn’t draw up a plan that included the play that helped put away the game – Maxey made a full-court sprint to save a basketball with an over-the-shoulder toss. The 76ers kept the ball and Embiid buried a fallaway bucket and sank the free throw for an 86-74 lead.

Embiid was good. Green was better. Green made six of seven three-pointers through three quarters, highlighted by ones that snuffed Miami runs and stretched the Sixers’ lead to 54-50 and 57-51. Green missed nine of 10 threes in Game Two.

Tyler Herro, though, had two critical threes of his own in the final minute and pulled the Heat to 68-65 to close the third. He had 14 and joined Jimmy Butler as the only Heat in double digits. Butler led the Heat with 33 points.

Maxey’s last three-pointer made it 92-77, and, suddenly, the Sixers have new life in the series.

The 76ers have never won a playoff series in 19 tries after losing the first two games. The NBA scoring champ’s return kind of helps those odds.

“Even when he’s not his normal self, he helps us a ton,” Green said.

Embiid – who led the 76ers with 30.6 points and 11.7 rebounds this season – effected Game Three just by his presence. Miami All-Star centre Bam Adebayo, who scored 24 points in Game One and 23 in Game Two, was held to just five in the first half.

“I was really (angry) watching another big man play well against my team,” Embiid said.

The big man is indeed back up – and so are the 76ers.