All that was missing was a hero cape, as Embiid went on to score 18 points to help keep the 76ers’ playoff dreams alive with a 99-79 win at the Wells Fargo Center.
Adding a record 11 rebounds and an assist, Embiid’s efforts helped the 76ers break away in the fourth quarter to reduce the Heat’s lead to 2-1 in the best-of-seven series.
Tyrese Maxey led the score for the 76ers alongside Danny Green with 21 points, an adequate total given the return of his team’s MVP nominee: Embiid wears the No. 21
“I was so happy to see 21 [jersey] hang up in the locker room, “Maxey told reporters.
“He’s a soldier. Thumb, mask, concussion, broken face – they make him look even uglier now – he’s a resilient man, he’s MVP for a reason.
“Only the attention he requires is great for us, and only a testimony of his will and his desire to win”.
The Cameroonian’s return marked the culmination of a rapid recovery, having been upgraded from “out” to “dubitful” by the 76ers only on Friday morning.
“It was a struggle,” Embiid admitted. “Really due to the concussion and managing a range of symptoms, but I’m glad he’s gone and I’m glad he’s back.”
Embiid’s return marked a bittersweet night for Miami Heat’s Jimmy Butler, who earlier this week said he wanted to see the 76ers star return so he could tackle his personal MVP nomination.
Butler’s wish was granted and he faced his former team with a record 33 points, adding nine rebounds and two assists, but he was the star in a completely mitigated heat offense. Tyler Herro was the team’s second-best scorer with 14 points, with no one else hitting the double digits.
The Heat will have until Sunday to rectify their problems before returning to the Wells Fargo Center for Game 4.
“Add Joel to any team; the game, the scout report, changes drastically,” Butler said. “It has been like that throughout his career.
“That’s not why we lost the game – we didn’t go back, we shot the ball, we didn’t stop, we fouled, there was a lot of stuff – but he’s a big part of it.”
Meanwhile, in the Western semi-finals, the Dallas Mavericks finished an 11-game losing streak against the Phoenix Suns and returned to the series with a 103-94 win.
The dynamic Maverick duo of Jalen Brunson and Luka Doncic dazzled with 28 and 26 points respectively, Doncic narrowly lost a triple double with 13 rebounds and nine assists as he continued a glittering playoff streak.
The Slovenian is only the seventh player in NBA history with an average of 35 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in the first three games of a series, according to ESPN Stats and Info.
“Energy man, I think energy was crazy,” Doncic said. “This crowd keeps us going, the crowd was fantastic throughout the game.
“The energy and execution were better, we trusted ourselves and that’s what we have to do every match.
“We believe they have to win four, so it’s not over yet,” Doncic added.
“It looked like all seven were back to back,” Paul said. “If I don’t turn the ball that way, it feels like it’s a different game.”
Jae Crowder’s 19 points led to the score for the Suns, who will have the opportunity to end the series in Phoenix should they bounce back with the win to score 3-1 on Sunday for Game 4.