NBA Playoffs 2018: What we learned from Embiid's return, Warriors' and Pelicans' dominance to take 3-0 leads

It was an eventful Thursday in the NBA playoffs, and while the scores may look like blowouts, there was still intensity and excitement in each game. Let's take a look back at the night's action and see what it means for the future.

Donning a superhero mask to protect his injured face, Joel Embiid went to work in the second half to help lead Philly to a 2-1 series lead over the Heat in the first of three playoff games on Thursday night.

Later, the Portland Trail Blazers were absolutely blitzed by the New Orleans Pelicans in what was essentially a must-win game on the road. The Pelicans were in charge from the opening whistle, and now hold a commanding 3-0 lead in the series, with a chance to close it out at home in Game 4.

Finally, the Golden State Warriors took care of business in a somber game against the San Antonio Spurs, who were without head coach Gregg Popovich due to the recent passing of his wife, to take a 3-0 lead. They'll look for the sweep on Sunday in San Antonio.

Here are some takeaways from the games, along with the final scores and a recap of our live updates from the night's action.

NBA playoff scores for Thursday, April 19

Embiid is a series-changer

Anyone who thought the Heat might have a chance in this series after a big Game 2 win got a 7-foot-2 dose of reality on Thursday with the return of Joel Embiid to the Sixers lineup. Embiid immediately made his presence felt on the defensive end, and slowly worked his way back into the offense. By the time the fourth quarter rolled around, it was clear that the Heat had absolutely no answer for him ... which bring us to another problem for Miami: What to do with Hassan Whiteside?

Some thought that Embiid's presence might coax some more productive minutes out of Whiteside, given their history of social media beef and relative similarity in size -- that was not the case. Embiid went after Whiteside, as he has in their last few meetings, and drew three first-half fouls on the big man. It's become clear through the first three games in this series that the Heat are much better off with Kelly Olynyk, and even Bam Adebayo, at center. They've started Whiteside, but he has averaged just over 13 largely ineffectual minutes per game in the series, and you have to wonder when they'll just take him out of the rotation altogether. It's a hard pill to swallow to bench a player making nearly $24 million this season, but that might be Miami's only chance to win.

Panic time for Portland

How quickly things have changed for the Trail Blazers. They surprised most by earning the No. 3 seed in the competitive Western Conference during a stretch in which Damian Lillard garnered significant MVP buzz ... and now they're down 3-0 to the DeMarcus Cousins-less Pelicans in the first round. No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit, so it's probably time for the Blazers to start looking at how they can fix things for next season.

They seem committed to the Lillard-CJ McCollum backcourt, but a drubbing like this has to make the front office take notice. Both have struggled offensively with next to no help around them, while Rajon Rondo and Jrue Holiday have gotten pretty much everything they've wanted on the other end. If the Pelicans manage to close this thing out on Saturday, Portland is going to be left with a lot of offseason questions.

Things lining up for Warriors

The Warriors got somewhat lucky with their playoff draw, avoiding a possible second-round matchup with the Thunder or Jazz and getting a favorable first-round matchup against the Spurs without Kawhi Leonard. The series has gone pretty much as expected so far, with San Antonio putting up a fight for the first half of all three games, but eventually running out of firepower against the potent Warriors attack.

If Golden State is able to complete the sweep on Sunday, it means they'll have ample time to rest for their next series, most likely against the Pelicans. It also means that they won't even have to entertain the idea of bringing Stephen Curry back for a potential sixth or seventh game against the Spurs, which will allow him to get completely healthy before rejoining the team, perhaps in the next round. After a rough end to the regular season, it appears that the Warriors once again have a path paved to the Western Conference finals.

Recap of live updates

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