‘We back up’: Joel Embiid’s return from injury breathes new life into 76ers vs. Heat series

Joel Embiid wants you to put the word out there the Sixers are back up. 

Well, sort of.

The MVP candidate made his return after missing the first two games of the series — which the 76ers lost — with a right orbital fracture and mild concussion, finishing with 18 points and 11 rebounds in 36 minutes of court time in Game 3.

Embiid didn’t save the day by himself — he had to overcome some rust — but his presence lifted the 76ers into a win they desperately needed, breathing new life into this series. 

The series is now 2-1 in Miami’s favor before Game 4 in Philadelphia. 

Embiid had some fun after Game 3, sharing a screenshot of a scene from “The Wire” in which Idris Elba’s character, Stringer Bell, says, “I want you to put the word out there that we back up.” Embiid walked it back postgame, saying they still have a lot of work to do.

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Embiid was clearly bothered by the protective mask at various stages of the Game 3 clash and took it off to wipe the sweat off his face and mask a number of times. 

Prior to the game, 76ers’ head coach Doc Rivers suggested that Embiid’s conditioning would likely be affected as he had not been able to participate fully in on-court activities due to his concussion, but that wasn’t evident early as Embiid played over 10 minutes in the first period alone. 

While he wasn’t the Joel Embiid we’re all accustomed to on offense, he did fill a hole on the defensive end for the 76ers. Miami had been easily able to penetrate Philadelphia in the paint in the first two games, but with Embiid back in Game 3, it forced the Heat into a lot of tough mid and long-range shots that the 76ers happily let them take. 

As the Warriors’ Draymond Green observed, Embiid’s presence lifted his teammates. 

Tyrese Maxey scored 21 points, all of which came in the second half. Danny Green also added 21 points on 7-of-9 shooting from long-range as the Heat defense focused on Embiid.

James Harden, who battled foul trouble throughout the game, would have been glad to see Embiid back patrolling the paint, freeing him up to maneuver on the perimeter, doing what the 2022 version of Harden does best: orchestrate the offense. 

Harden finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and six assists. The 76ers outscored the Heat by 27 points in his 37 minutes on the court.

Prior to Friday night’s game, there was a legitimate feeling that the Sixers could get swept without the services of Embiid. Now, with a Game 3 win and momentum in the Sixers’ favor, the series is anyone’s to win.