NBA Playoffs: Sixers star Joel Embiid drops 50 points in Game 3 win against Knicks after being diagnosed with Bell’s palsy


Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Embiid is also suffering from the lingering effects of a knee injury that cut his regular season short.


Joel Embiid led his Philadelphia 76ers squad to an inspired 125-114 Game 3 win over the New York Knicks, despite confirming after the game that he is being treated for a mild case of Bell’s palsy.

The reigning NBA MVP scored a playoff career-high 50 points in the crucial victory to go along with eight rebounds and four assists, getting the 76ers on the board for the first time in this opening round series.

It was a historically efficient shooting night for Embiid, who went 13-for-19 from the floor, 5-of-7 from deep and 19-of-21 from the free throw line. It was the first time in league playoff history that a player has scored 50 points on less than 20 field goal attempts, per the NBA.

Embiid explained after the game that he had started suffering from Bell’s palsy symptoms “a day or two” before Philadelphia’s Play-In tournament game against the Miami Heat on April 17.

“I had bad migraines and thought it was nothing,” he told reporters. “It’s pretty annoying, you know, with the left side of my face, my mouth and my eye. So yeah, it’s been tough.

“But I’m not a quitter, so gotta keep fighting. But yeah, it’s unfortunate. That’s the way I look at it. But it’s not an excuse. Gotta keep pushing.”

Bell’s palsy is a condition that causes sudden weakness in facial muscles. It can cause one half of the face to appear to droop, a smile can be one-sided, and the eye on the affected side resists closing.

The condition is normally temporary, but Embiid said that he had no timetable for a recovery, adding that it “could be weeks, could be months.”

He also said that it had been affecting his vision and that he was putting drops in his eye to prevent it from becoming too dry, though he still managed to smile about the situation.

“I got a beautiful face. I don’t like when my mouth is looking the other way,” said the Cameroon-born superstar.

Embiid was involved in a moment of controversy in the first quarter after being knocked to the floor while on defense. He reached up and grabbed opposing center Mitchell Robinson’s leg, who was injured on the play and seen leaving the arena in a walking boot.

Embiid was whistled for a flagrant 1 foul and insisted postgame that the incident was not intentional, though New York guard Donte DiVincenzo asserted that it was a “dirty” play.

Matt Slocum/AP

Embiid drives to the rim during the game.

With the second-seeded Knicks winning the first two games of this Eastern Conference series, the Sixers needed a huge effort in Game 3 in front of their home fans. After the Knicks emerged from halftime with a slender three-point advantage, Embiid took over in a crucial third quarter, scoring 18 points and knocking down all four of his triples as Philly outscored New York by 16 in the quarter.

Point guard Tyrese Maxey – who was named the NBA’s Most Improved Player on Wednesday – added 25 points for the Sixers while Kelly Oubre Jr. had 15. The Knicks were led by All-Star Jalen Brunson, who poured in 39 points and dished out 13 assists. Josh Hart also scored 20 for New York, but it was not enough to get over the line as the visitors fell, but still hold a 2-1 lead in the series.

Lakers risk a sweep, Magic get in the win column

Elsewhere on Thursday night, the reigning champion Denver Nuggets handled the Los Angeles Lakers on the road, beating LeBron James and Co. 112-105 to take a dominant 3-0 lead in the series.

This matchup has so far been reminiscent of the 2023 Western Conference finals, which saw Denver sweep the Lakers 4-0. No team in NBA history has won a playoff series from 0-3 down, so LA seemingly has an insurmountable task on its hands.

The Nuggets were led by Aaron Gordon with 29 points and had three other players score at least 20. The starters stuffed the stat sheet, with Gordon, Michael Porter Jr. and two-time MVP Nikola Jokić each grabbing double-digit rebounds in addition to their 20+ point hauls.

Anthony Davis had 33 points and 15 boards while James and Austin Reaves scored 26 and 22 respectively in the loss and will be hoping that they can at least extend the series with a win in Game 4 on Saturday.

Gary A. Vasquez/USA TODAY Sports/Reuters

Jokić battles Davis in a duel between two star big men.

Back in the East, the Orlando Magic won a lopsided Game 3 against the Cleveland Cavaliers to pick up their first victory of the series. Led by 2022-23 Rookie of the Year Paolo Banchero, who had 31 points and 14 rebounds, the Magic routed the Cavs 121-83.

Cleveland maintains a 2-1 lead in the series but will have to get over Thursday’s disappointment which saw their star backcourt duo of Darius Garland and Donovan Mitchell held to a combined 18 points.

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