Those tasked with mopping the sweat off the floor under the Wells Fargo Center baskets must always be on high alert for when a player hits the deck or possession shifts from one end of the court to the other. But during Game 3 of the 76ers’ Eastern Conference semifinal against the Miami Heat, the young ladies posted up along each baseline took on an additional duty.

Any time Joel Embiid removed his mask during a stoppage in play, they were ready to toss him a towel to wipe his face and the inside of the device.

That dark gray contraption was a stark physical reminder that Embiid played Friday night with a literal broken face — more specifically, an orbital fracture near his right eyeball sustained eight days prior — while totaling 18 points and 11 rebounds in the Sixers’ 99-79 victory to close their best-of-seven series deficit to 2-1. And the Sixers’ MVP finalist, who missed Games 1 and 2 against the Heat, brushed off any discomfort the protective mask potentially caused in his return.

“It’s whatever,” Embiid said after the game, his face visibly swollen. “It’s just the circumstances.”

Sixers second-year guard Tyrese Maxey was elated when he saw the mask hanging alongside Embiid’s jersey in the Sixers’ locker room. That image was also posted on the team’s social media accounts with a “Phantom of the Process” caption, a reference to the iconic musical, “Phantom of the Opera.”

When asked how it felt to play wearing the device, Embiid initially mocked himself by saying, “I air-balled a wide-open shot, so that’s the answer to that question.” But he added this version was not as “annoying” as the mask he wore in 2018 for the same injury to the opposite side of his face. Though his current mask is made of similarly indestructible material, Embiid is grateful that, this time, he does not need to wear the accompanying goggles that attracted a distracting reflection from the arena lights.

“Four years ago, I really complained about it,” Embiid said. “This time around, it’s still a big adjustment … but it’s fine.”

Embiid said any trouble seeing through the mask did not affect him on the defensive end, a belief backed up by center counterpart Bam Adebayo’s 2-of-9 performance from the floor and minus-22 rating Friday night. On offense, though, Embiid said, “You need to really be able to see to try to knock down shots.” That could have contributed to Embiid’s 5-of-12 performance from the floor. There were also times he seemed surprised to catch the ball, and coach Doc Rivers said Embiid’s timing was a bit off.

No other Sixers who spoke after Friday’s game had worn a mask in their career. Yet they all had a similar reaction to watching Embiid do it.

Rivers: “I have no understanding of that. I can’t imagine, honestly. … The thing is moving around. I don’t know how you play with it, but he is and I’m happy he’s out there.”

All-Star point guard James Harden (after looking for wood on which to superstitiously knock): “I can only imagine how difficult it is. … But it’s game time. It’s winning time. It’s the playoffs. Jo [knows] how much we needed him, and he delivered.”

Veteran wing Danny Green: “I can’t imagine playing with a mask on your face, but hopefully he gets used to it.”

Embiid perhaps most needed the protection late in the game, when Adebayo inadvertently knocked Embiid in the face and sent him to the floor while going for a rebound. As Embiid spoke during his postgame news conference, his right eye began watering to the point that a tear trickled down his face.

He said it will take his face a couple of weeks to heal. So, for now, he will power through while wearing the mask.

That means those who mop the Wells Fargo Center floor during Sunday’s Game 4 must be ready for that extra, towel-tossing task.

“It’s going to make him look even uglier now,” a joking Maxey said. “He’s resilient, man. He’s the MVP for a reason.”

» READ MORE: Joel Embiid’s return helps Sixers land 99-79 victory over Miami Heat in Game 3 | Analysis