Joel Embiid had trouble with his new mask, but it did not slow him down.
Embiid’s playoff debut was a smashing success for Philadelphia.
The All-Star center on Thursday returned from a 10-game absence by scoring 23 points, including a personal 7-0 run down the stretch that iced matters, as the 76ers reclaimed control of their Eastern Conference first-round series by topping the Miami Heat 128-108.
Photo: Jasen Vinlove-USA Today
The 76ers outscored the Heat 32-14 in the fourth quarter and took a 2-1 lead in the series.
“I am just so proud of what he did,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.
Rightly so, too.
Embiid started the day doubtful, ended it dominant, and had plenty of help as well.
Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric each scored 21 points for Philadelphia, while Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists.
“It was annoying, but that was the only way I could play in this game, if I wore the mask and protected my face with goggles,” Embiid said of getting used to the mask. “I had to work through it and I did.”
The day began with the 76ers saying Embiid was not likely to play.
His status was upgraded to probable in the afternoon and then he was finally inserted into the starting lineup — medical clearance coming from the team, mask clearance coming from the NBA after the league signed off on the dark, translucent, carbon-fiber, goggled apparatus that was made in consultation with independent experts.
The mask came off a couple of times, the goggles were askew at times as well — Heat forward Justise Winslow even stomping on them once for good measure, a play that Brown chalked up to the intensity of playoff basketball — but in the end Embiid found a way.
“It’s definitely a different look when you have an All-Star back in the lineup,” Winslow said.
“It changes things, for sure,” he said.
Goran Dragic scored 23 points for Miami, who also got 19 from Winslow and 14 from Josh Richardson.
Game 4 is today.
Embiid banked in a turnaround straightaway jumper — a fortuitous bounce — to put Philadelphia up nine late on, then connected on a three-pointer and added a pair of throws to start the spurt that put away the game.
Meanwhile, Miami could not find any sort of stride.
Hassan Whiteside was mired in foul trouble and ineffective, finishing the night one for one from the field for five points.
Dwyane Wade, who the Miami Heat needed to be superb in the victory in Philadelphia in Game 2, shot two for 10.
Wayne Ellington, Miami’s single-season leader in three-pointers after making a record 227 this season, was one for five from the floor.
The Heat won Game 2 by controlling the physical battle.
Game 3 was another street fight and Philadelphia did not back down.
Philly won Game 1 by dominating the second half, while Game 3 went a similar way.
The 76ers outscored Miami 74-43 in the second half of Game 1 and 65-44 in the second half on Thursday.
“It’s clear that the first game and the third game were played on their terms,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
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