Five takeaways: Sixers take home-court advantage right back, defeat Heat 128-108 in Game 3

Philadelphia 76ers’ Ben Simmons (25) goes up for a basket as Miami Heat’s Hassan Whiteside (21) defends during the first half of Game 3 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series Thursday, April 19, 2018, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

MIAMI — The Heat stole home-court advantage in Game 2. But it didn’t take the Sixers long to snatch it back.

The Sixers survived a bruising 48 minutes to defeat the Heat 128-108 in Game 3 on Thursday to take a 2-1 lead in the first-round playoff series. The game included 56 personal fouls and six technical fouls, as the teams played a physical brand of basketball.

Despite the lopsided score, it was a back-and-forth game most of the way that included 17 lead changes and 13 ties. But Philadelphia took control in the fourth quarter, outscoring Miami 32-14 in the final period to turn a two-point lead at the start of the quarter into a 20-point win.

“We went through a little bit of a drought and they just kept on scoring either via 3-pointer or foul trouble or getting to the free-throw line,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “That’s the thing. It was right there. But you have to be able to complete it for 48 minutes. That’s what’s going to be required against this team. They went on a big run and it just got away from us.”

Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid was dominant in his playoff debut, finishing with a team-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists. Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric scored 21 each.

Miami’s defense didn’t bother Philadelphia much in this game. The Sixers shot 50.6 percent from the field and made 18-of-34 threes.

The Heat were led by point guard Goran Dragic, who recorded 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. But starting center Hassan Whiteside was quiet again with five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes.

“He might not necessarily put up the numbers, but its 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,” Spoelstra said of Whiteside. “It starts with the defense, the rebounding. It’s a lot of responsibilities for us offensively. I’ll spend some time working that out in the next day in a half.”

The Heat will now try to bounce back and even the series, 2-2, in Saturday’s Game 5 at 2:30 p.m.

“It’s going to be hard to play the way we need to play to win the series,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, who finished with eight points on 2-of-7 shooting. “But this team you got to understand that you go through these moments. You lose a game like today and you understand you don’t like this feeling and you like the feeling you had in Game 2. You got to work harder to get to that. So we’ll see. We’ll come in and we’ll learn from it.”

Here are our five takeaways …

The return of Joel Embiid: The Sixers got their All-Star center back Thursday and he made a major impact. Embiid finished with a team-high 23 points to go with seven rebounds and four assists in his return. His presence was especially felt on the defensive end, as Miami shot just 6-of-18 at the rim in Game 3. Embiid had missed the previous 10 games (final eight of the regular season and first two of the playoffs) to recover from surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Philadelphia posted a 9-1 record in his absence, with the only loss coming in Game 2 of the series. But it’s obvious the Sixers are a better team with Embiid on the court.

“Obviously, when the game speeds up, he can slow it down,” Spoelstra said. “He has a way of drawing fouls and its not just in the post. A lot of his fouls drawn are on the perimeter, shot fakes and drives. He knows to draw them. We have to do things with great technique, great discipline. We’re capable of it. And we expected him to be in the series at some point. So, that’s the challenge for us.”

Another quiet night for Hassan Whiteside: Even with Embiid back on the court, Whiteside continued his quiet series. Battling foul trouble for most of the night, Whiteside finished with five points and two rebounds in 13 minutes. He only attempted one shot in the game. This comes after the Heat’s $98 million center logged just 15 minutes in Game 2 and 12 minutes in Game 1. Whiteside is averaging 3.7 points and 4.0 rebounds in the playoff series.

“It’s just different, man,” Whiteside said of his underwhelming numbers this series. “I feel like our offense is a lot different. I’m not as involved in as many dribble hand-offs as I was and post-ups as I was in the regular season. That’s what coach wants. Coach wants me to just be in the corner and set picks. That’s what he wants. I’ve just got to trust it.”

This series is physical … very physical: Didn’t think this series could get more physical after the first two games? You were very wrong. The Heat and Sixers combined for 56 personal fouls and six technical fouls in Game 3. There were 72 free throws taken in the game — 35 for Miami and 37 for Philadelphia. The tension seemed to reach its peak when Wade and Sixers reserve guard Justin Anderson were called for “physical taunting foul” technicals after they were involved in a small skirmish near the basket with 10:26 remaining in the second quarter. Double technical fouls were also called on Miami’s James Johnson and Philadelphia’s Ben Simmons for exchanging words with 4:22 remaining in the second quarter. There’s still at least two more games in this series. What happens next?

“It’s the playoffs, baby,” Wade said. “I wish the whistle didn’t blow as much as it did. We’re fine with it. Let it go, man. Nobody wants to get into fights. But there’s going to be some body on body. There’s going to be some man-on-man combat in this series and it’s the playoffs. This is why everybody is walking on eggshells in the regular season so they can get to the playoffs and be healthy.

“But this is what the fans love to see and this is what competitors love to play in. The physicality doesn’t matter. We want them to be physical and we’re going to be physical. It’s just about winning a ballgame and whatever you can do.”

The Heat need this Goran Dragic: The discussion after Game 1 was about how much the length of 6-foot-9 Sixers forward Robert Covington was bothering Heat point guard Goran Dragic. That’s because Dragic struggled in the first game of the series with an inefficient 15 points on 4-of-13 shooting. But Dragic has turned it around since then and turned in his best performance of the series so far in Game 3. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-14 shooting and eight assists on Thursday. The performance didn’t lead to a Heat win, but this is the Dragic the Heat will need moving forward.

The playoff version of Justise is entertaining: In Game 2, Justise Winslow opened eyes with his ultra-physical defense against Simmons. In Game 3, Winslow opened with his ability to be just about everywhere on the court. The 22-year-old provided a major lift off the bench with a season-high 19 points to go with 10 rebounds and three assists. And Winslow’s physical and feisty play continued Thursday, and he even stepped on and broke Embiid’s protective goggles. But Winslow was held scoreless in the second half on 0-of-5 shooting. Still, it seems like Winslow is made for playoff basketball.

“It was amazing,” Winslow said of scoring 19 points in the first half. “I live for these moments, these big games, the big stage. But I was just trying to do whatever it took to win and we fell short. So three months, four months from now I’ll look back and it will be a great memory and great moment. But the bigger picture, we didn’t win tonight. I rather have the two-point [win] rather than the whatever ‘L.’ It’s tough, man. It’s tough when you’re playing that well and you still can’t pull it out. But it is what it is. We got to find a way.”

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