Los Angeles (AFP) – Joel Embiid scored 23 points in his postseason debut as the Philadelphia 76ers crushed the Miami Heat 128-108 to grab a 2-1 lead in their first round playoff series.
Embiid, who wore a mask to protect a broken bone in his face, returned from a 10-game absence and helped seal the victory by scoring seven straight points for the Sixers down the stretch.
Dario Saric and Marco Belinelli combined to score 42 points while Ben Simmons finished with 19 points, 12 rebounds and seven assists for Philadelphia in front of a crowd of 19,800 at Miami’s American Airlines Arena.
“It was annoying,” Embiid said of the black carbon fibre mask. “But that was the only way I could play in this game, if I wore the mask and protected my face with goggles. I had to work through it and I did.”
Game four of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference series is Saturday in Miami.
Embiid wasn’t even supposed to play Thursday. Many thought he would be out of the lineup longer due to the severity of the injury. He had to get a doctor’s clearance from the team and league approval for the mask and goggle combination that sometimes slipped off his face.
“I am just so proud of what he did,” said Philadelphia coach Brett Brown.
The 76ers won for the 18th time in their last 19 games and reclaimed home-court advantage in the series.
Goran Dragic scored 23 points, Justise Winslow had 19 and Josh Richardson scored 14 in the loss.
In New Orleans, Nikola Mirotic scored a career playoff-best 30 points and the Pelicans beat the Portland Trail Blazers 119-102 to take a stranglehold 3-0 lead in their best-of-seven series.
“I never thought I’d score 30 or something like that,” Mirotic said. “I’m just trying to play simple. If I have a shot, take a shot, so I need to give credit to my teammates.”
Anthony Davis had 28 points and 11 rebounds for New Orleans, who are hoping to reach the second round of the postseason for the first time since 2008.
They can achieve that goal with a win in game four on Saturday.
Mirotic, acquired in a midseason trade after DeMarcus Cousins’ season-ending injury, made 12 of 15 shots. He drained three-pointers, finished off fast-break layups and made clutch dunks.
Damian Lillard led Portland with 20 points but also missed nine of 14 shots. CJ McCollum scored 22 and Al-Farouq Aminu added 21 in the loss.