The 76ers (52-30) regained home-court advantage in this series with a 128-108 victory Thursday night in Game 3, a contest closer than the final score indicates. All-Star center Joel Embiid had 23 points, seven rebounds, four assists and three steals in his career postseason debut after also missing the final eight regular-season games and first two matchups of this series due to a fractured orbital bone.
Ben Simmons added 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists as Philadelphia made 18 3-pointers in a game for the second time in this series. He scored four points in a 9-1 burst to start the fourth quarter as the 76ers grabbed a ten-point lead and led by at least five thereafter.
Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric each made four 3-pointers, and the 76ers got an unexpected contribution from the perimeter by Embiid, who sank three of four from beyond the arc.
Goran Dragic had 23 points and eight assists without a turnover while Justise Winslow added all 19 of his points off the bench in the first half before finishing with ten rebounds. The Heat (44-38) made 16 3-pointers of their own in 33 attempts but failed to stop the 76ers with any consistency defensively as Philadelphia shot 50.6 percent.
Veteran guard Dwyane Wade failed to follow up his 28-point effort in Miami’s Game 2 victory as he was held to eight points and five assists while making just two of ten shots in 25 minutes off the bench.
Three keys to the game
Familiarity breeding contempt - These teams are growing in dislike and loathing for one another with each passing game. They combined for 56 personal fouls and three sets of double technical fouls in Game 3, and that does not include the multiple forearm shivers being given as players would try to create separation in the lane.
Belinelli and Dragic were jawing at each other in a foreign language, Wade threw Justin Anderson to the floor in the second quarter and at one point Winslow tried to step on Embiid's protective mask after it had fallen off during a play.
Spo knows adjustments - Expect Heat coach Erik Spoelstra to change things up now that the 76ers have the two highest point totals allowed by the Heat in their playoff history after the Game 3 loss. Spoelstra is 26-13 in his career in the playoffs after a loss, and 1-0 in this series after winning Game 2.
And about that mask - Embiid is not thrilled with having to wear the mask which is a full facial shield with a lens, and he was seen trying to adjust it often and debating whether to wear it while shooting free throws. But he also knows wearing it is the only way coach Brett Brown will let him stay on the court, so look for the "Phantom of the Process" to continue tormenting the Heat.
"It was annoying, but that was the only way I could play in this game," Embiid told the Sun-Sentinel. "As far as the mask, Justise stepped on it and tried to break with his hands. But little did he know we have about 50 of them. It's going to take much more than that to get me out of these series."
Matchup to watch
C Joel Embiid vs C Hassan Whiteside - The lack of offense, or pretty much anything, from Whiteside had been a running concern for the Heat through the first two games of this series, and with Embiid's return Thursday night, it became a crisis in South Florida given the impact the 76ers center made and the lack of one from his counterpart.
Whiteside did not attempt a shot until finishing an alley-oop with 8:41 to play, and that was his only shot as he finished with five points and two rebounds. Whiteside has totaled 11 points and 13 rebounds in this series, in part because Spoelstra is not running as much pick-and-roll offense involving the seven-footer and the 76ers were using smaller lineups without Embiid, but also because Whiteside has lacked aggressiveness.
Spoelstra defended his center after the Game 3 loss, accepting some blame for Whiteside's struggles, telling ESPN, "He might not necessarily put up the numbers, but it's part of my job to figure it out and figure out how he can get to his strengths and be an impact player for us."
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Miami Heat projected starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | C - Hassan Whiteside | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson
Oh look, Simmons nearly posted a triple-double again as the rookie has now averaged 20.0 points, 10.0 rebounds and 9.7 assists in this series while shooting 48.8 percent without posting an actual triple-double.
Simmons has been hitting his free throws, sinking seven of eight Thursday and 18 of 24 overall in this series, with that 75.0 percent well above his season conversion rate of 56.0 percent.
Saric continues to be a matchup problem for the Heat and has averaged 21.3 points while making 11 of 23 from 3-point range in this series. He also has averaged 7.3 rebounds in the three games and has a 53.8 effective field goal percentage.
Winslow's 19-point effort marked a season-high for 2017-18, and it was also his third double-double overall this season. The challenge for the third-year guard will be to make this something more than an outlier after totaling 32 points and 33 rebounds in the previous six games between the teams.
Dragic has totaled 43 points and 11 assists in the last two games while making 16 of 27 shots, including 14 of 19 from inside the arc. After committing four turnovers in the Game 1 loss, the Heat guard has just one in 52-plus minutes over the last two games and has averaged 16.3 points and 4.6 assists in the seven games versus Philadelphia this season.
The 76ers are three-point favorites for Game 4, and Thursday's win marked the first time in five games (1-3-1) in Miami they have covered. Philadelphia are now 5-1 against the spread in their last six road games, 10-3 in their last 13 overall and 13-4 in their last 17 versus Eastern Conference opponents.
Philadelphia are also 6-2 versus the number in their last eight games against Southeast Division opponents, but they have covered just once in their last seven games the contest after they scored 125 or more points. The 76ers have covered in their last four Saturday games and 9-2 in their last 11 against the spread coming off a double-digit win.
Miami have covered just once in their last six home games and are 3-7 against the spread in their last ten overall. The Heat, though, are 4-0 versus the number in their last four games coming off double-digit losses at home and also 10-4 against the spread in their last 14 games following a loss.
The over/under has slipped two points to 215 since its open, with the over hitting four times in Philadelphia's last five games overall and posting a 6-1 mark in their last seven against conference rivals. The over is also 5-2 in the 76ers' last seven road games and 5-2 following a straight up win.
The over is 5-1-1 in Miami's last seven games versus Atlantic Division opponents and 4-1 in their last five against conference rivals. The under, though, has posted a 6-2 mark in Miami's last eight first-round playoff games and is 12-5 in Philadelphia's last 17 road games against teams with a winning home record.
The 76ers have shown they can score 125 points against the Miami Heat without Embiid and now, with Embiid. Philadelphia are at their best when they speed up the pace though it does not reflect in the discrepancy between the teams in transition points.
The Heat have outscored the 76ers in transition points (40-28), but where Philadelphia have dominated is in second-chance points. The 76ers have reached double figures in all three games in that category, and the gap is now a yawning 56-24 in the series after outscoring them 11-3 in Game 3.
And this is another area that goes back to... Whiteside. The Heat center made a salient point about his role, or lack thereof, in Miami's current offensive set-up, telling USA Today, "Coach wants me to just be in a corner and set picks. I mean, that's what he wants so I've just got to trust it."
If that is the case, the Heat will continue not getting offensive rebounds. And with Embiid showing range out to the 3-point line to drag out both Embiid and Kelly Olynyk from the paint, weak-side rebounding will continue to be a problem on the defensive end. Philadelphia, who are connecting at a torrid 43.9 percent clip from 3-point range, have 40 offensive rebounds on top of shooting 46.3 percent.
Miami cannot survive if these percentages continue. They recognize they cannot get into shootouts with this team because Philadelphia have both the better spot-up 3-point shooters and more of them.
Belinelli has picked up the slack with Reddick making just two of 12 from deep in the last two games, and the 76ers have five players with at least five 3-pointers.
The Heat have yet to find a consistent second scorer behind Dragic, and time is of the essence since going to Philadelphia down 3-1 will all but end this series. Wade is the best option among them, even coming off the bench, but right now it looks like it will not be enough as the 76ers have too much firepower with Embiid back and will have three chances to close out the Heat after a 112-103 victory in Game 4.
The game will be televised nationally on TNT and nationally in Canada on TSN5. It will be televised locally on NBC Sports Philadelphia and Fox Sports Sun. Tip-off time is 2:30 pm EDT.
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