Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers staged a remarkable comeback on Wednesday night, overcoming a 14-point second-half deficit and a chorus of boos from their own fans to defeat the Miami Heat 105-104 in the Eastern Conference play-in tournament. Embiid's late surge, coupled with a season-high 20 points from Nicolas Batum, propelled the 76ers to the 7th seed and a first-round playoff matchup against the New York Knicks.

Embiid, who missed 43 games this season due to a surgically repaired left knee, struggled for much of the game as the Heat's swarming 2-3 zone defense stifled the 76ers' offense. The reigning MVP looked visibly fatigued, laboring up and down the court and leaving bunnies bouncing off the rim. However, Embiid exploded in the fourth quarter, nailing a trailing 3-pointer, finding Batum for a crucial assist, and finishing a pivotal and-one following an offensive rebound. He finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds, and five assists, earning every notch in the scorer's book.

"I didn't play my best," Embiid admitted after the game. "I didn't get to my spots the whole game, until the fourth quarter." The 76ers' early struggles, which included just 39 points at halftime and 11 first-half turnovers, brought back memories of their immense challenges against the Boston Celtics in last year's second-round playoff series. Those shortcomings, among other factors, led to the dismissal of former head coach Doc Rivers and the hiring of Nick Nurse, who has been tasked with guiding Embiid and Co. beyond the second round for the first time in the star center's career.

Nurse praised Embiid's competitiveness, especially late in the game, acknowledging the challenges he faced against the Heat's defense and the pick-and-roll action involving Bam Adebayo. "Last few minutes, it's not that easy, [Tyler] Herro's coming off there 100 miles an hour, and Joel's gotta be up on those screens," Nurse said.

Tyrese Maxey, who overcame a passive start to create off the dribble and collapse the Heat's defense, credited the guidance of Batum and veteran guard Cam Payne for helping him find his rhythm. Batum's contributions extended beyond his sizzling shooting, as he made crucial plays down the stretch, including a flip shot on a fast break, a forced backcourt violation, and a block on Herro's jumper with 24.5 seconds remaining.

The 76ers' veteran depth, which includes the likes of Kyle Lowry, Tobias Harris, and Buddy Hield, played a significant role in the comeback victory and showcased why the team was on pace to push for 60 wins before Embiid's injury. As they prepare to face the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs, the 76ers will have an opportunity to prove they have built a sustainable contender around their 7-foot superstar.

Game 1 of the 76ers-Knicks series is set for Saturday at 6 p.m. ET at Madison Square Garden. With the Knicks having played virtually no zone defense this season under head coach Tom Thibodeau, Embiid will have time to recover and potentially exploit more favorable matchups. The series will also provide a chance for the 76ers to make a statement against a rival franchise known to covet Embiid's services in the event of Philadelphia's demise.

Meanwhile, the Heat, who went from the play-in tournament to the NBA Finals last year, will face the Chicago Bulls on Friday night for the 8th seed and a daunting first-round matchup against the top-seeded Boston Celtics. Heat star Jimmy Butler, who suffered a knee injury late in the game, expressed uncertainty about his status for Friday's contest, saying, "I hope that I'm fine. I hope that I wake up tomorrow and can still stick-and-move. Right now, I can't stay that's the case."

In the other play-in game, Coby White's career-high 42 points led the Bulls to a 131-116 victory over the Atlanta Hawks, setting the stage for their win-or-go-home clash with the Heat. As the NBA playoffs begin, all eyes will be on Embiid and the 76ers as they aim to silence their critics and make a deep postseason run, starting with their highly anticipated series against the Knicks.