Joel Embiid and the Sixers had many valid excuses for a loss Saturday night in Miami.
They instead turned the evening around in the third quarter, coming back from a 13-point deficit for a 109-98 win at FTX Arena. The Sixers moved to 25-17 and Miami dropped to 27-16.
Embiid had 32 points and 13 rebounds. Heat center Omer Yurtseven posted 22 points and 11 boards.
The Sixers were down Danny Green (right hip pain), Matisse Thybulle (right shoulder soreness) and Shake Milton (back contusion.)
Miami had more key players available than they had for a win over the Sixers last month, though Bam Adebayo (right thumb surgery), Markieff Morris (return to competition reconditioning) and Victor Oladipo (right knee injury recovery) remained out.
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The Sixers will play a Monday afternoon game against the Wizards on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Washington, D.C. Here are observations on the Sixers' win over the Heat:
Yurtseven starts well against Embiid
Embiid played on the second night of a back-to-back despite having been listed as questionable with right elbow soreness.
In a rare occurrence, the opposing center was the more impactful player in the opening stages. Yurtseven, a 23-year-old rookie who’s emerged in Adebayo’s absence, scored 10 of Miami’s first 15 points, including a soft floater and a dunk after scrapping for an offensive rebound.
He also hung with Embiid on a drive before blocking his shot. Embiid began 1 for 6 from the floor, and the one make was a difficult fadeaway jumper through contact by Kyle Lowry.
The Heat sent hard double teams at Embiid throughout the night. Embiid’s game is obviously far vaster than Yurtseven’s, but the Turkish big man did play a role in Embiid being below his usual level in the first half. The circumstances of Embiid’s elbow injury and the home-road back-to-back are notable factors, too. Still, we’ll go as far as opining that Yurtseven appears to have the necessary tools for a long NBA career. He recorded double-digit rebounds for a 14th straight game.
Embiid found his mid-range game eventually — that's an understatement, really — and hit 9 of 11 field goals after halftime. He drained comfortable jumpers against single coverage and capitalized on chances to play powerfully in the paint even when Miami tried to double team.
It sounds simple, but it matters that Embiid pushed through whatever he was dealing with physically and elevated his game. Embiid's teammates have lauded his enhanced vocal leadership, but Saturday was a good example of him leading through his play and effort.
Strong nights from Curry and Harris
Andre Drummond’s first stint brought back memories of Dwight Howard’s lowlights during his lone season in Philadelphia. With Embiid on the bench, the Heat ended the first quarter on an 11-0 run.
Drummond fouled Tyler Herro on a three-pointer, threw a wild pass to Furkan Korkmaz that led to a turnover, and got a technical foul for an incident between himself and Herro. To be fair to Drummond, the technical was harsh; it looked like Drummond took the ball from Herro’s hands after a whistle and then got pushed by the Heat guard.
Miami finished with a 12-6 advantage in offensive rebounds. Drummond had none in his 11 minutes. On a positive note, Drummond assisted Korkmaz and Charlie Brown Jr. on backdoor cuts and picked up two steals and a block.
Tobias Harris scored efficiently even with only one free-throw attempt, posting 22 points on 9-for-13 shooting. He made 3 of 3 three-pointers, a significant development for a player who entered Saturday's game at 29.3 percent on threes for the season.
Seth Curry (21 points, five assists) went 5 for 9 from long range. A Curry long ball at the third-quarter buzzer gave the team a 75-73 lead.
Curry's continued rise at 31 years old has been a huge storyline of this Sixers season. His excellent postseason last year wasn't fluky, in part because he complements Embiid so naturally and in part because he's a capable, confident ball handler.
Heat veterans Jimmy Butler and Lowry combined to shoot 3 for 22 from the field. Though both missed open looks, the Sixers played high-quality defense for a second straight night. Tyrese Maxey (13 points, seven rebounds) had a Thybulle-esque block of a Lowry three-point try in the fourth quarter.
Brown bright off the bench
With the Sixers light on the wing, they started Korkmaz and gave rotation minutes to Isaiah Joe and Brown.
Brown shined in his first meaningful action since signing a two-way contract. Among his impressive moments were a block on Herro from behind, solid defense on a Butler drive, and an offensive rebound followed by an assist to Harris for a three-pointer.
It would be a cherry on top for the Sixers if Brown started sinking jumpers, but his athleticism has already enabled him to do a lot of things well besides score.
The Heat's bench outscored the Sixers' 39-15, though Georges Niang provided vital shotmaking. A Niang three-pointer in the third quarter was the Sixers’ second unit’s first made field goal. It capped a 17-4 run and tied the game at 70-all. Niang made three big long balls in the fourth, too.