Game Three: Five Things to Watch For

Photo Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

The Sixers can get it done without Joel Embiid.

That might be the biggest topic of the past 48 hours, Joel’s game three status, but we’re talking about a team that just won nine games in a row minus the superstar center.

When you re-watch game two, you can look at Miami’s increased pressure and physical play and tip your hat to Dwyane Wade for his phenomenal individual effort. You can also look at the fact that the Sixers didn’t shoot the ball well, suffered a horrendous second quarter, and still cut the lead to two points deep in the fourth quarter.

Going with the glass half full approach, we’ll start with that topic:

1. Uncontested Field Goals

How much of the Sixers’ shooting struggles were due to Miami’s more intense approach, versus simply missing open shots?

Luckily for us, the NBA keeps statistics to help us determine that.

I edited the chart below to show each player’s minutes and overall field goal percentage. The other six categories are fairly straightforward:

  • CFGM = contested field goals made
  • CFGA = contested field goals attempted
  • CFG% = contested field goal percentage
  • UFGM = uncontested field goals made
  • UFGA = uncontested field goals attempted
  • UFG% = uncontested field goal percentage

The NBA defines a contested field goal as “any shot where the closest defender is within 3.5 feet.”

Taking that into account, here you go:

They only shot 30.2% on uncontested looks. JJ Redick was especially poor here, hitting just 1-9 vs. a 3-4 contested field goal mark. Marco Belinelli hit just 3 of 10 uncontested looks and Robert Covington was 2-7.

For comparison, those three players were 6-10 (Redick), 6-11 (Belinelli), and 3-6 (Covington) in this category in game one. The entire team was 56.5% in uncontested field goals, so it lends a lot of truth to the idea that they just weren’t hitting on Monday night. Still, you give credit to Miami for being disruptive and pestering on the perimeter and making guys more uncomfortable in general, but I highly doubt the Sixers shoot 19.4% from three again this series.

2. A whole lot of BS

Hassan Whiteside has been a total non-factor in this series. I think he’s mentally soft and doesn’t possess any sort of killer instinct or competitive attitude.

If you want a stat to show how little he’s been involved, consider the fact that he only accounted for 17 of Miami’s 397 touches in game one. He threw 9 of their 277 passes. Those numbers barely changed in game two, with 15 of 367 touches and 10 of 244 passes.

Through two games, he has 6 total points, 10 rebounds, 3 blocks, 5 turnovers, and 6 field goal attempts. He’s played just 27 minutes.

That makes Embiid’s eventual re-introduction interesting to me. Does Embiid’s return inspire Whiteside at all, considering the past beef? He’s obviously more suited to bang in the low post with a guy like Joel, vs. sliding around the floor and trying to keep an eye on Ilyasova or Saric.

I know Whiteside has had some nagging injuries and only played in 50-some games this year, but I thought we might see something different in the playoffs.

Not really.

It seems to be a continuation of the way he finished the season, with Erik Spoelstra frequently going small and turning to Kelly Olynyk and rookie Bam Adebayo down the stretch. That led to Whiteside dropping this quote after a bad loss to Brooklyn:

“Man, it’s annoying,” said Whiteside, who was pulled for good with 3:55 to play in the third quarter. “Why we matching up? We got one of the best centers in the league. Why we matching up? A lot of teams don’t have a good center. They’re going to use their strength.

“It’s bullshit. It’s really bullshit, man,” Whiteside said. “There’s a lot of teams that could use a center. Shit. That’s bullshit.”

We’ll see if Spoestra continues with the same “bullshit” in game three.

3. What’s left in those legs?

The general consensus was that Dywane Wade would be capable of stealing at least one game in this series. He did that Monday night both literally and figuratively, scoring 28 points off the bench and slapping the ball away from Dario Saric in a sequence that kicked off a 6-0 fourth quarter run.

Does he have the legs to do it again? How much gas is left in the tank?

Wade only played 26 minutes Monday night, so it’s not like he needed to go 40+ in some Herculean effort. He was efficient as hell, hitting his first seven shots of the game, a bunch of mid-range stuff that you’re probably willing to live with.

For what it’s worth, Wade played more regular season games against the Sixers than any other team, putting up 15.9 PPG on 50% shooting in 24 average minutes:

Compare that to season averages of 11.4 PPG and 22.7 minutes, with a 45.5 FG% in Cleveland and a 40.9 FG% since returning to Miami. He’s performed at a higher level against the Sixers this year.

Here’s how he did in all five of those games:

  • 11/27 (Cavs): 15 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 41.7 FG%, 25 minutes
  • 12/9 (Cavs): 13 points, 1 rebound, 4 assists, 60.0 FG%, 24 minutes
  • 2/14 (Heat): 8 points, 3 rebounds, 2 assists, 30.9 FG%, 23 minutes
  • 2/27 (Heat): 27 points, 1 rebound, 1 assist, 62.5 FG%, 25 minutes
  • 3/8 (Heat): 16 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 53.8 FG%, 23 minutes

And the playoff games:

  • 4/14 (Heat, game one): 11 points, 4 rebounds, 4 assists, 57.1 FG%, 19 minutes
  • 4/16 (Heat, game two): 28 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 68.8 FG%, 26 minutes

It’s impressive stuff, really just one clunker in there, the 2/14 game where he failed to reach double digit points.

Based on all of that, and considering that he hasn’t logged a ton of minutes, it’s not unreasonable to think that he could rip off another big game in this series. We’re talking about a guy with three rings and a hell of a lot of playoff experience. This is where he thrives.

4. Rebounding

For all the talk of the Sixers playing smaller lineups with Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric as a 5/4 combination, there really hasn’t been much of a drop off on the glass.

Ilyasova has 25 rebounds through games one and two, more than any other player on either squad. He pulled 6 off the offensive glass in game two alone, and according to NBA tracking stats, those boards came from 9 offensive rebounding chances (ORBC), so he was successful on 66% of his rebounding opportunities off missed shots.

Coming into the series, Miami was 9th in the NBA at disallowing second chance points, just 11.7 per game. But the Sixers poured in 27 of ’em in game two. Part of that, of course, is that they missed a lot of their first attempts. You can’t get offensive rebounds if you aren’t putting up bricks in the first place, but watch for that tonight and see if Philly can again be successful on the glass despite playing small and keeping stretch bigs on the floor. Spoelstra has turned to Kelly Olynyk frequently and has had more success with him on the floor. That keeps Whiteside on the bench, but like I said, it’s not like he’s changing the game when he’s out there.

5. Playing inside to outside

Miami showed some full court press in the second quarter of game two, which really threw the Sixers off their rhythm.

One of the ways to combat that, instead of screening off the ball to get shooters open, is to throw screens at the ball-handler to alleviate higher defensive pick-up points.

This is what I mean:

Redick’s back screen there causes some confusion, with James Johnson sticking to Simmons and Josh Richardson switching instead. JJ slides out to hit the team’s second successful three-pointer on 14 tries.

This plays well to the Sixers’ strengths, because if Miami switches there, Simmons can go down and post up the smaller Richardson while Redick has a slower and bigger guy on him. They can’t pester your point guard on the perimeter if he’s 6’10” and possessing the ball on the low block instead:

If you watched Villanova at all this year, you saw Jalen Brunson do this. He’s not 6’10”, but he did a nice job of posting up similarly sized guards and then allowing his shooters to fan out on the perimeter.

That shot above was Redick’s only three pointer of the game. He missed his other six attempts, most of which involved a lot of legwork, him running horizontally off screens while Miami went over the top and tried to prevent easy looks. In this case, Redick was working vertically and popping out to the line, instead of trying to lose a pesky defender by dragging him sideways.

The only other instance I saw of inside-to-outside passing with Redick was here:

No screen there, and it might have been a broken play, but Redick is popping to the perimeter off some 1/2 action, which gets him a decent enough look.

So keep an eye on how the Sixers look to get their shooters open in game three against a more physical team that really wants to go over screens. High defensive pressure makes opponents ripe for backside picks and a high/low passing game, and you can probably rag them on a UCLA cut or two. If Embiid plays, you can dump it down to him in the post and let him either work 1v1 or pass out of late double teams in that inside-to-outside fashion.

More than anything, they just need to hit their open shots and they’ll be fine, with or without Joel.

 

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