The Philadelphia 76ers' push in the postseason got even more legitimate on Thursday night with the return of Joel Embiid. The masked star had 23 points in his return and postseason debut as the Sixers took a 2-1 series lead with a 128-108 win over the Miami Heat in Game 3. Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric each added 21 points for Philadelphia, who made half of their shots on the night. Embiid returned from a 10-game absence due to an orbital fracture and concussion and stepped up down the stretch, as Philadelphia took over in the fourth quarter. He definitely looked like a guy that has been itching to play, which was evident in a recent social media post where he said that he was tied of being "babied." No coincidence that he was back on the floor the next game. The Sixers outscored the Heat, 32-14, in the final 12 minutes, as Embiid had a personal 7-0 run to power that stretch. Ben Simmons had another productive night with 19 points, 12 rebounds, and seven assists, as the 76ers celebrated having Embiid back, after the young star was listed as doubtful when the day began. Miami could not overcome the added momentum from that big news, despite Goran Dragic's 23 points, Justise Winslow's 19, and Josh Richardson's 14 points. They will hope to even that series on their home floor Saturday afternoon.
Warriors, Pelicans Take 3-0 Series Leads
Two teams have cruised in the first round of the Western Conference, both of which are a bit of a surprise. First, the Golden State Warriors, despite still playing without Steph Curry, took a 3-0 series lead with a 110-97 rout of the San Antonio Spurs on Thursday. Kevin Durant had 26 points, nine rebounds, and six assists for the Warriors, who took out the short-handed Spurs, as they were without head coach Gregg Popovich following the death of his wife. Assistant coach Ettore Messina took over the head coaching position following the tragic news on Wednesday. LaMarcus Aldridge led the mourning Spurs with a double-double of 18 points and 10 rebounds, but San Antonio never led in the game. The Warriors also got 19 points from Klay Thompson, as they look to close out the series on Sunday. Meanwhile, the New Orleans Pelicans inched closer to a series sweep on Thursday by taking care of the Portland Trail Blazers again, 119-102. It wasn't the typical big man that took over for New Orleans, as Nikola Mirotic put up a career playoff-best 30 points, eight rebounds, and three blocks and became the third different New Orleans player to reach 30 points in the series. Anthony Davis had a 35-point night in the series opener and Jrue Holiday scored 33 in Game 2. Davis had a double-double of 28 points and 11 rebounds to go with three steals and two blocks on Thursday, as the Pelicans look to advance past the first round for the first time since 2008. They can do so by completing the sweep in Game 4 on Saturday.
Bruins, Capitals Take Care of Business on the Road
Two teams got the job done on the road in the Stanley Cup Playoffs on Thursday night to improve their positioning in the series. First, the Boston Bruins extended their series lead to 3-1 with a 3-1 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. Brad Marchand scored the go-ahead goal, while Tuukka Rask made 31 saves for the Bruins, who were without Patrice Bergeron, as he was a late scratch with an upper-body injury. Torey Krug and Jake DeBrusk also scored for Boston, while David Pastrnak added two assists. The Maple Leafs feel as if more opportunities were in place for them, but they just could not capitalize on them. Thomas Plekanec scored the only goal for the Maple Leafs, who got 18 saves from Frederik Andersen. Meanwhile, the Washington Capitals responded to their two home losses by handing the Columbus Blue Jackets two of their own after Thursday night. Evgeny Kuznetsov had a goal and two assists to lead the Capitals to a 4-1 win to even the series at two-apiece. Tom Wilson and Alex Ovechkin each added a goal and an assist, while T.J. Oshie also found the back of the net in the road victory. Braden Holtby got the job done between the pipes with 23 saves, as the Capitals look to take their first series lead when they return home on Saturday. The Blue Jackets' lone goal came from Boone Jenner, while Sergei Bobrovsky had 29 saves in a game that they never led.