TORONTO — There was something unusual in the air as Doc Rivers picked up the whiteboard and began to scribble. Truth be told, it had been there all night, lingering alongside the boos and the groans and the expletive-laden chants that filled the pulsing fluorescence of a desperate arena.

It was there through every brick and bounce of a brutal overtime period, there in a fourth quarter that should have been their last, there even at halftime, when they’d looked at the score and then at each other and realized that a storm had been weathered. Destiny, purpose, preordination — call it what you will — it was there. And as they broke the huddle and bunched on the far side of the court and screened and curled and rolled to their assigned stations, each of them sensed it.

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“That’s one of my favorite spots,” Joel Embiid said later of the little patch of hardwood that he settled into as the referee handed Danny Green the ball on the sideline with 0.9 seconds on the shot clock another couple of ticks on the game clock and the Sixers a flick of the wrist away from a 3-0 series lead.

There was a time when a comment like that would have prompted an entire major metropolitan area to roll its collective eyes. Death and taxes and Joel Embiid leaving the paint for the three-point line, the Delaware Valley’s tripartite curse. The last time he’d been in this arena on this stage, he’d spent so much time there that it threatened to define him, a tearstained score sheet telling the tale: 6-for-18 from the field, 1-for-6 from deep, a two-point loss in a decisive Game 7.

Still, there was that sense. This time, things were different. The ensuing three years had seen Embiid transform both his body and his game into unflappable entities that had vaulted him into the realm of the NBA’s no-doubt-about-it elite and vaulted his team back into the Eastern Conference’s championship conversation. Nobody could argue he needed the ball in his hands.

They were here because of him, in both the series and the game. The first 52 minutes of Game 3 had seen the Sixers turn the ball over 22 times, nine of them in a first quarter that would have left them flat on the mat against a more competent opponent.

They did not deserve to be within striking distance at any point in the second half, let alone where they in the climactic moments: tied at the five- and three-minute marks of the fourth quarter, down by one with a minute left, all knotted up again with 50 seconds to play. They should not have even been in position to muck things up the way they did with 27.5 seconds remaining in regulation, bailing out the scrambling Raptors by fouling a driving Precious Achiuwa as the shot clock was about to expire. They should not have had an opportunity to muck things up further, settling for a last-shot Embiid step-back three-point attempt at the end of regulation after Achiuwa had missed both of his free throws to preserve a 95-95 tie.

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“Honestly, it was one of those games at halftime, I was just looking at the score,” Rivers said. “I just ignored the first half. I told our guys, we can’t get that back, thank God. Just go out and play.”

And here they were, not only alive but believing. After scoring five points in the first half, Embiid had exploded for 23 in the third and the fourth, carrying the Sixers back from a double-digit deficit that reached 17 in the second quarter and sat at 10 at the half. He had help, no doubt. Tobias Harris’ defense and grimy hustle, Tyrese Maxey’s preternatural shot making, James Harden’s perpetual cool. All of it, though, was built on a foundation of knowing that they were playing alongside the best guy on the court.

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“That’s the MVP of the league right there,” said Harden, who fouled out late in the fourth quarter and spent overtime on the bench.

So when Rivers took the whiteboard and uncapped the pen, he did so without hesitation. Maxey would roll, Georges Niang would flare, Harris would screen, and the best guy on the court would get his chance to shoot the ball. They’d worked on it often, attempted it several times before.

“I knew the ball was going to him,” Maxey said. “And when he caught it? I don’t know. I have nothing to say. … Joel is Joel.”

It is no longer a pejorative, those three words. Embiid is Embiid, one of the most physically dominant and uniquely gifted big men to ever play the game, the NBA’s scoring leader, one of three deserving MVPs, a 27-year-old superstar who is only beginning the process of showing the world what he can be. How far that takes them this season is still the most open of questions. But in each of the first three games of this series, he has made it a more intriguing one to ponder.

At the very least, he has now given himself one of those indelible moments that define legacies. Tie game, 2.6 seconds left: Embiid finds an opening on the left wing, catches the ball, fades away to his left. The sounds of 20,000 in silence, and the splash of a net.