Joel Embiid scores 23 points, has the big assist as 76ers beat Heat in play-in to earn No. 7 seed

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Joel Embiid showed why Philadelphia always has a shot at a long postseason run as long as he’s in the lineup.

Embiid had 23 points, 15 rebounds and one huge assist to Kelly Oubre Jr. on a go-ahead three-point play that led the 76ers to a 105-104 win over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament on Wednesday night.

The 76ers earned the No. 7 seed and advanced to play the second-seeded New York Knicks in the opening round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Game 1 is Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

The Heat — who went from the play-in tourney to the NBA Finals a year ago — host the winner of the night’s late play-in game between Chicago and Atlanta on Friday night, with the winner getting the No. 8 seed.

Embiid exploded out of a quiet game late in the fourth and carried the Sixers back from 14 down in the second half. Embiid, who missed 43 games this season, was a non-factor as Nicolas Batum and Buddy Hield improbably sparked the 76ers in the second half. Batum had 20 points.

But when the Sixers needed big buckets, who else was there but their big man?

Embiid buried a go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc with 2;33 left in the game for a 93-91 lead that sent a crowd — that had about booed the Sixers out of the building at the half — into a frenzy. After the Sixers blew that lead, Embiid again was clutch with a three-point play for a 96-94 lead.

With the game tied 96-all, Miami’s Tyler Herro was whistled for a backcourt violation. Embiid slipped the ball to Oubre under the basket for the bucket, the free throw and a 99-96 lead they would not give up.

The 76ers played this one like it was Game 7 — and with good reason. They like their chances against the upstart Knicks rather than playing for the No. 8 seed and a date with the NBA’s best, the Boston Celtics.

That’s what Miami faces if it can get out of Friday’s game and make the playoffs under this format for the second straight season.

Herro — who hit a 3 in the final second before the 76ers lost the ball out of bounds as time expired — finished with 25 points. Jimmy Butler, perhaps slowed by a first-half knee injury, had 19.

The 76ers rallied in the third, fueled perhaps by a free fast-food chicken promotion triggered when the Heat missed consecutive free throws with a nine-point lead.

With the crowd roaring for the first time all night, the Sixers took off — but not behind the usual suspects. Batum — acquired in the James Harden deal with the Clippers — instead hit three 3s in the quarter that edged the Sixers within one possession of a tie game three times. Each time, the 76ers were stymied, none worse then when Embiid was stripped on a drive that could have knotted the game at 68-all. Kevin Love instead buried a 3 and the Heat took a 74-69 lead into the fourth.

After a few quick buckets put them up early, the Sixers caved and seemed downright befuddled by Miami’s zone. The Sixers were passive and could not find a way to dump the ball inside to Embiid — the 7-footer waving his arm in vain for a ball that never came. And where his help? All-Star guard Tyrese Maxey — who had three 50-point games this season — vanished and scored only nine points in the half. He finished with 19.

Philly’s voracious boo birds were heard early, often and never louder than when the oft-maligned Tobias Harris ripped a page out of the 1990s Knicks star Charles Smith’s book when he missed four — four! — gimmes at the bucket on one possession.

Harris was benched in the final minutes of the game.

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