Beat ’em at their Own Game – Observations from Sixers 128, Heat 108

Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

I felt like I needed a cigarette after that game, and I don’t even smoke.

Talk about a slug fest; we watched two teams exchange blow after blow and come back for more. There was fouling and clutching and yelling and jawing and scrapping and one guy even grabbed another dude by the arm and pulled him off the court. Another guy stepped on someone’s goggles and we also saw the Slovenian guy flex at the Italian guy in some sort of 2013 EuroBasket redux beef.

Through all of that, the Sixers never really truly seemed as nervous as fans on social media. Miami successfully junked it up, slowed down the game, and got the whistles blowing, but the Sixers found an answer for everything thrown at them. They answered physicality with their own physicality. They countered a 48.5% three point mark with a 52.9% effort of their own. They ratcheted up the defense, got some stops, and then just showed their superior talent in what became a 20 point win.

If one thing stands out more than anything, it’s obviously the performance of Joel Embiid, who went for 23, 7, and 4 in his first game since March 28th. Specifically, it was Brett Brown’s decision to give Embiid 30 minutes and allow him to shake off a 0-5 start from the field, which Joel turned into a 5-11 overall mark and 10-15 effort from the foul line. He was typically stout on the defensive end and blocked and altered shots that Miami had been converting in games one and two.

Go down the list and you find contributions across the board. Dario Saric put up 21 points. Ben Simmons went for 19, 12, and 7. Marco Belinelli hit some big shots early to keep Miami from building a lead. The entire team only turned it over 12 times and showed a lot of mental fortitude out there.

All of those things add up to a really nice road win. These are the types of games where young guys learn what playoff basketball is all about.

More on Embiid

I mentioned Joel’s rough start from the floor, just 0-5. He did get to the foul line early and hit 6-8 from there, fidgeting with the mask and pulling it over his head for some free throw attempts, then leaving it down for some second half attempts.

You could tell he was annoyed with it. Who wouldn’t be? But he found a groove and got something to click, hitting a pair of shots at the end of the first half and finishing 5-6 after that tough start. He was a -7 in the second quarter and finished the game as a +9.

There were two times I believe where the goggles became detached from the mask, and on one of those occasions Justise Winslow decided to step on the eyewear before picking it up:

I mean, I love it. I love the gamesmanship. It’s petty and it’s arrogant and it’s corny, but it’s playoff basketball.

This is what Joel said about that after the game:

I wondered if Embiid might overdo it in his return to the floor, and what I mean by that is I was interested to see if he was looking for the ball on every possession, or if he was going to do too much dribbling and turn it over, or if he would get into some pointless bullshitting with Hassan Whiteside that would spark the Heat center into a respectable performance.

We really did not see much of any of that.

Joel had three turnovers, two of which came from him trying to drive to the basket and the third which was a goofy sequence where he and Ersan Ilyasova messed up a simple inbound, which gave the ball back to Miami. There was a shot clock violation where he tried to work Kelly Olynyk into the low post, but just didn’t realize where he was as the buzzer went.

Otherwise, it was solid stuff all around.

Joel hit a ridiculous bank shot from the free throw line. He hit a three in James Johnson’s face and another on a Simmons drive and kick out. But I’d actually pick this one as his best bucket of the night, something where he did yeoman’s work on the low block and showed patience before the shot:

Strong stuff there.

Take Bam Adebayo inside, pump fake, go above Olynyk for the tough finish. I really think that bucket got him going.

He’s just a special player, he really is, and in a weird way, it felt almost like a privilege to watch him in his first playoff game.

Junk it up

We were talking about this on the podcast last night/this morning, but Russ and Kyle weren’t enamored with Miami’s physical play and some of the more childish stuff we saw on the floor. I showed the Winslow thing above. You also had Goran Dragic taunting Belinelli after a bucket. You had Ben Simmons yelling in someone’s face after a big dunk.

Then you had this:

Anderson and Wade got double technical fouls for that. I understand it based on the retaliation from Anderson, but that’s Wade using his veteran card to literally grab a guy, pull him out of bounds, and remove him from the play. Say what you will about the officiating, but it is what it is. Most refs are going to default to the path of least resistance, with is slapping each guy with a ‘T’ and then moving the game along.

And I don’t necessarily subscribe to the thought process that Miami is dirty or a bunch of assholes. I think this is a team that identified a blueprint to beat the Sixers, and they’re trying to execute that game plan by being aggressive, getting up in your grill, not giving you anything easy, and trying to pull you off your game. If you watched in the 80s or 90s, this is what playoff basketball looked like. Bill Laimbeer would have fit perfectly into last night’s contest.

One wrinkle from all of this is that the Sixers did a decent  job of converting their foul shots. They were 28-37 from the line for a 75.7% mark. Philly was actually 75.2% from the line this season, just 23rd best in the NBA, so they actually hit above their regular season average last night. Simmons, specifically, was 7-8, and is now 18-24 in this series and hitting at 75%, almost 20 percentage points better than his 56% mark from the line throughout the regular season.

Keep an eye on that, because if Miami is going to foul and grab and junk it up, they’re going to have to deal with a team that’s doing a better job from the stripe.

T.J. McConnell (and Fultz and Anderson)

Simmons played  40 minutes last night. Markelle Fultz played 4:21 and struggled defensively while T.J. McConnell had a few nice moments while only playing 5:29.

I don’t know if it’s sustainable for Simmons to play 40 a night. This isn’t Tom Thibodeau coaching the Sixers. You’d probably feel a lot more comfortable if one of Fultz or McConnell can give you 8-10 minutes of backup ball handling to pull Ben’s minutes back down to 36 or so.

I’m not really into hot takes or sweeping statements, but I’m not sure if Fultz is ready for the physicality of this series. You saw a couple of moments last night where McConnell just dove right at the basket and got something out of it, and he’s probably going to be more suited on the defensive end in a scrappy and crappy game.

And I thought Justin Anderson did a nice job on Wade, who, through all of the choppiness last night, finished just 2-10 with 8 points. That’s exactly what Anderson was brought in to do – limit Wade – and you’d have to say that he got the job done. He also hit a pair of three pointers and grabbed four rebounds.

That’s another wrinkle there, a game three adjustment the Sixers made that worked in their favor. Credit to Brett Brown for going down that road.

Miami fans

Where were they? Probably at the club. I guess there are better things to do in Miami than watch basketball.

Coggin seemed particularly offended:

Other notes:

  • I mentioned yesterday how the Sixers simply missed a bunch of open shots in game two, going just 30.2% on uncontested looks (3.5 feet or further from the nearest defender). Last night they were 51.2% on UFGs.
  • Outside of three steals, Robert Covington didn’t have a great game. He hit a patch in the third quarter where Dragic roasted him 2 or 3 times in quick succession. He did, however, still finish with the second best defensive rating among the five starters (107.1). Guess who was first? Yep, Embiid, with a 106.9.
  • The offensive rebounding margin was way down in this game, just a 6 to 5 advantage for the Sixers, who put in 11 second chance points. Part of the reason is because they were actually hitting shots, but fewer minutes for Ersan Ilyasova, who has been excellent on the glass in this series, probably also explains some of the discrepancy.
  • JJ Redick is now 2-12 from three in the last two games, though he did hit some stuff at the rim last night when he was able to drive on Tyler Johnson. Any concern with Redick’s outside shooting?
  • 14 minutes for Amir Johnson, who slides back to his bench role and probably keeps Richaun Holmes off the floor for the rest of the series
  • 12 touches for Hassan Whiteside out of 402 for Miami. That’s a joke.
  • 19 points for Winslow is a season high. He didn’t have a 20 point game this season.
  • No coach should ever have to speak to the media in the middle of a game. I am holding firm with this opinion now and forever.
  • The country Goran Dragic is from, Slovenia, is pronounced ‘Slow-Veenia.’ It’s not ‘Slow-Vania.’ It doesn’t rhyme with ‘Pennsylvania’ or ‘Transylvania’ –

This has been your linguistic lesson for the day.



9 Responses

  1. When Kinker moves to Jim’s site next week he’ll actually be able to travel and be a real reporter. Cheap Kyle won’t let him. This is a good career move for the Kink.

  2. Kevin, don’t tell my dear Wanks, but I have a thing for your curly Boyertown boyish looks. Grab a drink at Cheesecake factory soon??? :))

  3. To be fair, the refs were really bad both ways. The amount of favoritism that refs show towards d wade is so blatant

  4. “And I don’t necessarily DESCRIBE to the thought process that Miami is dirty or a bunch of assholes.” What does that mean

      1. I have, on my daughter’s homework. She is 7 and doesn’t get paid as a career to write…

  5. The double technical call is such a pointless cop-out. Refs can’t be scared to make a call against Wade just because he used to be a superstar.

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