Joel Embiid – who suffers from Bell's Palsy – turns in a 50-point masterpiece

PHILADELPHIA — Joel Embiid walked off the stage and into the set of Wells Fargo Center hallways late Thursday night wearing dark black sunglasses on his face. He wore them most of the night after the Philadelphia 76ers kept their season alive with a grueling Game 3 win over the New York Knicks; In the locker room icing his leg and in a press conference in front of reporters and cameras.

Over the past week and a half, Embiid has been afflicted with Bell's palsy, which causes weakening of the muscles on the left side of his face. It started with a severe migraine last week, just a day or so before the 76ers beat the Miami Heat in a Play-In Tournament game to clinch the No. 7 seed. It lingered and left his mouth drooping, his eyes dry and blurry, and in constant need of drops.

He said that this situation was a nuisance, but not a deterrent. This season has tested Embiid in many ways. He saw his NBA All-Star teammate asked out, and a torn left meniscus erased two months of an MVP-level campaign. The 76ers had to sustain their season and win just to get to the postseason. Their hopes and safe passage have always depended on Embiid.

They did it again Thursday in a resounding Game 3 win, when Embiid turned in his best playoff performance yet. With a still paralyzed knee, and now troubled by that latest ailment, he dropped 50 points on the Knicks in a 125-114 win, pushing Philadelphia to a 2-1 lead in the first-round series.

Embiid was dominant and effective. He made 13 of 19 shots and made 21 free throws. He galvanized the 76ers during a 43-point third quarter when they erased a halftime deficit and took control of the game. When the 76ers' season seemed to be faltering, just one loss away from a comprehensive series, Embiid stepped to the fore once again.

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He did it, of course, in his own way. He nearly lost control in the first quarter and was nearly ejected — perhaps it should have been — when he followed up an offensive foul with a flagrant 1 a few possessions later. While lying on the floor, Embiid pulled down opposing center Mitchell Robinson, who was jumping over him for a dunk. The play infuriated the Knicks. Donte DiVincenzo described it as “dirty”. But it was a rebuke to Lampied and nothing more. Instead, he beat the Knicks the rest of the night.

Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points, Cameron Payne came off the bench for 11, and the Sixers drained 48.4 percent from 31 points. However, it was Embiid who carried them again.

He outplayed Jalen Brunson, who finally broke out of his two-game slump. Brunson scored 39 points and dished out 13 assists after missing 39 of his first 55 shots in the series, but it wasn't enough. Not when Embiid tormented the Knicks inside and out. Embiid hit five 3s and drew seven shooting fouls. Nyx rolled hard after hard trying to stop him but they couldn't. Isaiah Hartenstein had five fouls, Robinson played just 12 minutes due to an ankle injury that forced him to miss the second half and still had three fouls.

“I got lucky,” Embiid said. “I've made some shots. But I've got to keep taking them, push it. I've got to keep believing in myself. Especially since my physical abilities are somewhat limited.”

Embiid had been slowed earlier in the series by his left knee, which he aggravated again in Game 1. He had missed 30 games because of a torn left meniscus after surgery in February, which injured him again. But on Thursday he looked lively again. But a series of injuries and constant pain have weighed on Embiid. He revealed his frustration as he explained his new bout of Bell's Palsy. This sometimes forced him to ask himself why he was attracting bad luck.

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“I say that every day,” he said. “It's unfortunate. Every year you start asking yourself questions like 'Why?' No matter what happens I have to keep pushing, I have to keep fighting, I have to keep putting my body on the line.

He did it over and over again. At 7 feet tall and 280 pounds, he struggled with pain and was treated for it after a series of injuries. They left a mark on him.

On Thursday, it nearly got him ejected from the game. He said Embiid grabbed Robinson because he was worried about getting hurt again. He had injured his left knee after Golden State Warriors striker Jonathan Kuminga fell on it last January. Embiid said that image ran through his mind when he saw Robinson standing over him in the first quarter. It put Robinson in danger, even though officials deemed him not worthy of a Screamer 2 movie.

“I had some flashbacks when that happened,” Embiid said, excusing himself. “It's unfortunate. I didn't mean to hurt anyone. In those situations, I have to protect myself because I've been in a lot of situations where I've been on the receiving end of a bad end. It was unfortunate. But a physical game. They want to bring their physicality. We can be physical too, and we are.” It goes both ways. I get bumped everywhere and I keep playing. I have to keep my mind and make sure I don't get out of myself. I have to keep being myself, aggressive and physical.

It was almost the play that changed the game and the series. The Sixers may have sunk without him and are looking at another early exit from the playoffs. Instead, they will get to play Game 4 on Sunday with a chance to tie their series with the Knicks.

Embiid had predicted this late Monday night after a disastrous end to Game 2. It was a prediction uttered with the kind of confidence that comes with an MVP award and a place as one of the league's best players. He said the Sixers should have taken a 2-o lead in the series. He said the Sixers were going to win it anyway.

Predictions are easy. Thursday, Embiid backed that up. He became the third player in Sixers history to score at least 50 points in a playoff game, and the first player ever in NBA history to do so on fewer than 20 shots. Embiid hammered the Knicks with pull-ups and drives to the rim. He came off screens and shot wide.

The 76ers followed suit. They benefited from a physical game that became at times, if not more, volatile. After bemoaning the officials in Game 2, they committed seven fewer fouls than the Knicks and made 14 more free throws. The surge in the third quarter was the difference maker and Philadelphia held off New York in the fourth quarter.

Now, it's a series again and the Sixers have regained their swagger. Embiid has never lost his.

(Embiid Photo: Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)

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