James Harden picked a good time to have arguably his best game yet as a 76er.

The return of Joel Embiid was the story of Game 3, but the Heat still had a game advantage in the series and the big guy still was battling through his various injuries. All of these issues were key to the Sixers, ahead of Embiid being cleared to play, being given the lowest odds of all the playoff teams remaining to win the Larry O’Brien trophy.

But on Saturday, the colt with the worst odds in the Kentucky Derby field came charging down the backstretch and won the whole thing.

And the Sixers, who looked all but out against the Heat only a short while ago, now are entirely even.

The Beard and his play were a big reason why.

— Inquirer Sports Staff, @phillysport

Maxey, Harris, Embiid, Harden, Green — different Sixers have excelled in the NBA playoffs. Who will excel next? sports.daily@inquirer.com

Off the Dribble

The 76ers started their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat in a 2-0 hole. Joel Embiid was injured, James Harden was mediocre, and the team’s playoff hopes looked lost. The full transformation took shape Sunday night when the Sixers won, 116-108, and evened their series 2-2 behind a healthier Embiid and a rejuvenated Harden.

In a pivotal game, Harden returned to true form. The player that Sixers fans expected when Harden came to Philly in a trade-deadline deal emerged as he scored 31 points, including 16 in the fourth quarter, to steer his team to a win and revive its playoff hopes.

Next: The Sixers return to Miami for Game 5 of their second-round series after evening the series at 2-2. The game is Tuesday night at 7:30 (TNT).

Early Birds

Whether Jalen Hurts develops into the Eagles’ franchise quarterback will be something to watch this season, and it sets the stage for him to prove himself. But Hurts also is a cost-saving quarterback, as his low salary-cap number helps the Eagles improve other areas of the team. Mike Sielski considers this situation in his column and what it says about the NFL in this era.

Among the 12 undrafted free agents the Eagles signed is a quarterback in Carson Strong out of Nevada. Get to know Strong and the others in beat writer Josh Tolentino’s breakdown.

Extra Innings

Today makes the 75th anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s first trip to Philadelphia as a major leaguer with the Brooklyn Dodgers. His four-game series at Shibe Park also served as the first time Robinson played in a game outside New York during his historical season breaking the game’s color barrier. Scott Lauber takes a look back at what Robinson was up against when he stepped off a train with his teammates on May 9, 1947 in Philadelphia.

Zack Wheeler and Zach Eflin will not travel with the Phillies for their West Coast road trip this week after being placed on the COVID-19-related injured list.

After two rainouts, the Phillies beat Max Scherzer but had to settle for a split in their doubleheader against the Mets.

Next: The Phillies head to Seattle for a three-game series against the Mariners beginning at 9:40 p.m. Monday (NBCSP). Ranger Suárez (2-1, 4.63 ERA) will go against Mariners right-hander Chris Flexen (1-4, 3.10).

Fleet Street

Two teams entered their weekend matchup, both topping their respective conferences. Two teams left with equal goals and points.

Dániel Gazdag and Julián Carranza may be the Union’s new dream team of scorers. Gazdag leads the team in goals with five. Carranza has four to his credit. Both had goals in a lively draw with the best team in the Western Conference, LAFC.

The Betting Line

The sports betting community lost its mind when Rich Strike pulled off the biggest Kentucky Derby upset in more than 100 years. “Mattress Mack” lost something else: $2.6 million.

The Houston businessman had that much in action tied in with Epicenter, who at around 4-1, went off as the favorite. Mack, whose real name is Jim McIngvale, told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that if Epicenter held on, he would have collected somewhere around $12 million.

But Rich Strike, who wasn’t even in the Derby field until Friday morning, edged out Epicenter at the wire for the unforgettable upset.

“You win some and you lose some, and sometimes you get rained out,” Mack told the Vegas publication. “Gonna put my big boy britches on tomorrow morning and go back to work.”

Zach Lucas, director of retail sports for Twinspires sportsbook, broke his maiden and attended his first Derby. He said the biggest wager they took was $500 from a Kentucky customer, which paid off $40,900.

“I had Messier, unfortunately,” said Lucas, referring to the No. 6 horse which finished 19 lengths back. “But what a time it was.”

Up next

The Preakness Stakes is May 21, and Rich Strike will be there. The Belmont Stakes is June 11.

Numbers to note

  • Churchill Downs said it took in a record $273.8 million from all sources on Kentucky Derby day, breaking the previous mark of $250.9 million from 2019.

  • The Derby alone pulled in $179 million, shattering another mark from 2019 of $165.5 million.

Worth a Look

On This Day

Sure, the recent loss the Phillies suffered against the Mets was a difficult defeat, but a truly brutal game was the one the Phils played against Cincinnati in 1937. The Reds beat the Phillies, 21-10.

We compiled today’s newsletter using reporting from Gina Mizell, Marcus Hayes, Scott Lauber, Alex Coffey, Andrea Canales, Mike Sielski, Josh Tolentino, Jonathan Tannenwald, and Ed Barkowitz.