Sixers outduel Heat down stretch to clinch No. 7 seed in East

The 76ers needed all the improbable tricks they could summon to even have an opportunity at winning their first play-in game.

Nicolas Batum hit game-shifting 3-pointers. Buddy Hield was in the mix. Even the promise of free chicken nuggets was enough to revive an offense and smother the boos from Philly fans that rained inside the arena.

But in crunch time, the game came down to Joel Embiid. Always Joel Embiid.

With the NBA MVP on the court, the 76ers proved they have 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 victory over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament on Wednesday night.

“Lots of booing,” Embiid said, smiling. “We stuck together. It just shows you that I don’t play my best, I don’t get to my spots the whole game until the fourth quarter, and we still find a way to win.”

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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 Chicago Bulls.

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 and finished out on a surgically repaired left knee, was a nonfactor as Batum and Hield sparked the 76ers in the second half. Batum had 20 points.

“We won the game because of them,” Embiid said. “Those guys stepped up and we won the game.”

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 for a 93-91 lead that sent a crowd into a frenzy after it had just about booed the Sixers out of the building at the half.

After the Sixers blew that lead, Embiid again was clutch with a three-point play for a 96-94 lead.

With the score tied at 96, 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 advantage they would not give up.

The 76ers played this one like it was Game 7, and with good reason. They like their opportunity 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 consecutive season.

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

Butler had four steals in the first half and gutted out two free throws after he slipped and appeared to tweak his right knee, perhaps a reason he scored only two points in the fourth. Butler said he would need an MRI on Thursday.

“It felt like I couldn’t do too much, which sucks with the timing of the game and everything,” Butler said. “I hope that I’m fine. I hope that I wake up tomorrow and can still stick-and-move. Right now, I can’t say that’s the case.”

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 open looks at the bucket on one possession.

Harris was benched in the final minutes of the game.

They’ll need Harris playing close to an All-Star level moving forward. But for a game, Batum and Hield — and a heaping dose of Embiid — were enough for the Sixers.

“Just like we planned it,” a smiling team president Daryl Morey said in the locker room.

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