The cool part about wrapping up a series is that you get a lot of great post game quotes. If the first three or four games are coded in cliche with generic answers to generic questions, then guys finally start to open up when one team moves on and the other goes home.
That’s what I’ll focus on this morning, because frankly it’s hard to get motivated to break down another chippy and redundant Miami and Philly game when we can now look ahead to round two.
It was the same blue print in game five; the Sixers didn’t shoot the ball well in the first half, survived the Heat’s best punch, and then pulled away in the third quarter for what became a 13-point win. They followed up game four’s 26 turnover effort with only 15 this time around and grabbed 9 offensive rebounds to offset a chunk of lost possessions. JJ Redick led the team with 27 points while Joel Embiid looked much better on the offensive end in a 19 and 12 performance with only four turnovers.
One of the main themes of this series was the Sixers’ success rebounding the ball and the lack of drop-off you saw in that department when Brett Brown used his smaller, four-shooter lineups, which Heat coach Erik Spoelstra spoke about Tuesday night:
“Look, they’re a good rebounding team regardless, whether you have size or not. As the series started to move, we started to make adjustments, and at times put some of our perimeter players like Josh Richardson and Dwyane (Wade) on their forwards, Ilyasova and Saric. At times they really took advantage of that, not in the post or in your typical fashion, it was more on the glass or just wearing on you body to body. They do a tremendous job on the offensive glass and on the other side of the floor defending, what makes them a very good defensive team is that they’re able to finish possessions, finish them with rebounds.”
Yep, he’s right. Miami just started to wear a bit in the second half of these games, and when the Sixers went small, they were able to space the floor, assert their style of play, and still defend and rebound at a high level.
From the game recap:
“Philadelphia pulled down 53 rebounds in Game 5, recording 50-plus rebounds for the league-leading third time this postseason. The 76ers are averaging a league-best 49.3 rebounds per game in the 2018 NBA Playoffs.”
Miami never really had an answer for that, and they didn’t get much of anything from Hassan Whiteside in this series, a guy who ended up being a total non-factor. They got some nice performances from Goran Dragic and James Johnson and D Wade, but that team just doesn’t have a killer, a stone cold superstar who can go 40 minutes in the playoffs and take over a game.
Spoelstra spoke for about 10 minutes last night and had a lot of really nice things to say about the Sixers:
“I would like to start just by congratulating Philly, Brett Brown, and his staff and players. They played very good basketball. They clearly deserved to move on. They’ve done it the right way; they’ve built it very steady and haven’t skipped any steps. You’re seeing the benefit of gradual and incremental work behind the scenes. That’s a very good team. It’s always tough to lose, but they played extremely well.”
They’ve “done it the right way,” huh. Kind of crazy to hear that from a guy like Spoelstra, isn’t it? He’s a well-respected coach around the league it sounds like he was down with the Process, which is certainly not the case in a lot of spots outside of Philadelphia.
Spoelstra repeated that same line when he was asked how the Sixers were able to make such a huge leap forward in a short amount of time:
“Well I think this is the first season where they’ve really had sustained health. So who knows, this may have looked similar in years previous. It might not have been a 50-win season but it might have been a bigger jump than a 20-win season to go to 50. But like I said, they’ve built a program the right way without skipping any steps. And when guys got healthy, they fit into a well-drilled system. They added some rock solid pieces that absolutely complemented what they already have. The first time we played them, they didn’t have Belinelli and Ilyasova and those guys definitely fit and help the dynamic of this team.”
He’s not wrong. What if Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons played a full 2016-2017 season? Where would the Sixers be right now? Spoelstra mentioned in a later quote that the talent of those two guys “belies their years.”
Wade echoed a lot of the sentiments shared by his head coach, words that mean a lot coming from a three-time NBA champion and 12-time All-Star:
“Sometimes an organization gets lucky and gets to draft someone special. These guys got to draft more than one person who is special. You get to build around that, that’s what these guys have the ability to do. I was lucky enough for my first year to go to the second round, in the next year the Eastern Conference finals and the next year win it all. It definitely can happen right away when you have the right group around certain individuals. Ben is an unbelievable talent, and they have the right guys around him. Signing JJ, bringing in [Marco] Belinelli, bringing in Ilyasova, having Joel healthy for the majority of the season and getting to play with him for the full year. They did a great job, they built a great team. When you have great individual players, it doesn’t matter how old they are, they can do some special things.”
Wade, now 36 years old, was asked about his future, but didn’t want to share anything at the Wells Fargo Center.
“I love Philly but I ain’t breaking no news here,” he laughed.
He was complimentary of Ben Simmons, pausing for a second before telling the media that he felt like the rookie point guard didn’t have one bad game in the series.
The Sixer Side
Brett Brown came to the media area with a towel draped over his back after being showered by water and chocolate milk in the locker room.
“I apologize for being wet… (pauses). I really don’t apologize, I love being wet,” the head ball coach said.
The video is worth posting again, even if you’ve seen it 15 times already:
What a scene.
The Sixers' locker room celebration was incredible after Brett Brown's first playoff series victory as he rings the bell while being showered by his team. pic.twitter.com/nBFfTq6F6t
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) April 25, 2018
How can you not get a kick out of that? You can try to be the most neutral and objective reporter on the planet and there’s no way you’re not smiling or laughing after watching that video.
This is just a tight-knit group and they love playing with each other. They love playing for Brett Brown.
Embiid touched on that when he was asked to expand on comments he made a few days ago about the Sixers’ time being “right now” –
“Looking at everybody else and looking at ourselves we have a lot of room to grow. I just say it because I think we have a special team. We’ve got a lot of talent and all good guys. We love each other and love playing with each other. I feel like we play the way we want to play and that’s sharing the ball. We’re the best defensive team in the league. We feel like we’re unstoppable and we can get whatever we want to. That’s the goal and we’re going to do what it takes to get there.”
Brown defaulted to the people around him when asked what was going through his mind as he walked off the court with the first playoff series win in his head coaching career:
“Just how proud I am of this organization. I was hired in 2013 and I sat with Josh Harris and David Blitzer and a few of the other owners and we talked about the vision, what we hoped to build and through rough times, through adversity for sure, we didn’t blink. We stayed strong in what we were trying to do and to sort of walk off that court. We’ve got more to do, we’ve got more to give. We’re excited for sure and there was a sense of just gratitude and [I’m] proud of all of us for just staying together. Owners, team, direction that were heading, we didn’t blink, we didn’t pivot out of what we said we were going to do. I think slowly we are reaping the benefit of that.”
Well, the one blink was the firing of Sam Hinkie, but outside of that they stayed the course, and here they are, moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
Outside of the rebounding and the smaller lineups and the tactical things that Philly was able to do in this series, I think you’d have to say that the most impressive thing was the way a young group handled a physical Miami team.
I think I’ve heard the term “physical” about 67 thousand times over the last week or so, but obviously that was the theme from game two on, as the Heat tried to be disruptive and junk it up.
Sometimes that spilled over into dust ups on the court, and it could have happened early in the first quarter when Josh Richardson undercut Ben Simmons on a drive to the hoop:
Not sure how Ben Simmons got up from this pic.twitter.com/IpPe0oDyVC
— Drew Corrigan (@Dcorrigan50) April 25, 2018
Let’s be clear:
There’s no way that is intentional.
Watch the first angle again and you see Richardson trip over Whiteside as he tries to go around a baseline screen to keep track of his man, Dario Saric. Some people were convinced that this was a dirty play, and I wonder if they’ve ever played sports before.
Anyway, Simmons did well to just get up and run back to the other end of the court, avoiding any sort of handbags in the process.
Redick was asked post game about that sequence:
“I think it was just a continuation of how most of this series has been played from Game 2 on. I don’t know if that necessarily got us fired up. It certainly was a reminder early on that this game was going to be similar in terms of physicality as the rest of the series. I know we keep using that word, but it’s really a good description of this series. We shot terribly basically for four games. Tonight, we were 7-for-28 from three in a close-out game and won by double figures. This was a physical series. At times it wasn’t the prettiest of shooting the basketball, but I think the competitive nature of this series was fun to watch.”
Later, Miami actually threw something intentional when Goran Dragic got frustrated with Ben Simmons after turning the ball over and basically just slapped him upside the head:
Goran Dragic with a swipe at Ben Simmons' head 😮pic.twitter.com/BtjV4DdMq4
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) April 25, 2018
Again, no real reaction from Simmons, who keeps his cool.
Joel Embiid actually got away with a late shot in retaliation when he caught Dragic with an elbow on his way over to the non-scrum:
Low key favorite part of this is Embiid elbowing Dragic on the flyby pic.twitter.com/lpzuntizfA
— CJ Fogler (@cjzero) April 25, 2018
Right, so we’ve got a guy intentionally slapping another guy in the head. That’s not a flagrant foul?
This wasn’t a flagrant either, when James Johnson got a piece of both Belinelli and Redick in a boneheaded play that sort of killed off a 10-0 fourth quarter Miami run:
James Johnson with the double clothesline on Belinelli and Redick. I can't believe how cheap and dirty this Miami Heat team has been this series, it's utterly embarrassing! pic.twitter.com/QF6BWIxVaa
— The Bitter Birds (@AdrianFedkiw) April 25, 2018
Uhhhh…… yea. Alright.
Again, no retaliation from Belinelli or Redick there.
Brett had a good quote about his team’s poise:
“There were probably at least four incidents that you could have done something you regretted. There could have been ejections. There could have been things that had repercussions in future games if we were able to get through this series. And the discipline, discussion we had with our group… I was with the Spurs team where Robert Horry hip checks Steve Nash into the scorer’s table. They had won 62 games that year and Amar’e Stoudamire and Boris Diaw stepped about a foot on the court and they’re suspended for the next game. We won and came back to San Antonio to close it out. They could have won an NBA championship that year. You look at situations all across the league and trying to hold our composure, and it’s hard in general, let alone for young guys. I thought we withstood the physicality of the Miami Heat.
“The composure, dealing with some of those things, is true and it’s a tremendous learning opportunity for our young guys.”
They passed the first test in that department. There will be more of that in round two, so get used to it.
- The first half pace was a bit frenetic out there. It seemed like the commotion over the Meek Mill release and resulting energy in the crowd had the Sixers out of sync a little bit, and they calmed down in the second half and started hitting their shots.
- Dario Saric struggled early, going 0-5 to begin the game. He only hit two shots last night but threw 5 assists and grabbed 5 rebounds, 2 on the offensive glass
- T.J. McConnell was the backup point guard again, and this time they got 13 minutes out of him. He went for 4, 3, and 3 with a steal and looked pretty solid I thought. Simmons only played 35 minutes in the win, down from 39 and 40 in the last two games.
- Amir Johnson quietly had a nice series. Early on, he started and scrapped with Whiteside and Adebayo, grabbing some key rebounds and playing a simple game. Last night he only played 8 minutes off the bench but went for 6 points and snagged 3 boards on the offensive end.
- Per Sixers PR: “For the series, Philadelphia shot 52 percent from the field and outscored Miami by an average of 7.4 points in third quarters. That’s the third-best margin of any team in the 2018 NBA Playoffs”
- Ersan Ilyasova continues to be a monster on the glass. He’s just so good at squeezing himself into good spots and anticipating where the ball is going to drop. His 8.8 rebounds per game coming off the bench lead all players in the postseason.
- It was nice to see Meek Mill out of jail and chilling with Kevin Hart, Mike Rubin, Governor Wolf, and Jeff Lurie. That said, Meek is a mediocre rapper at best and I’m pretty sure 9 out of 10 Philadelphia sports fans can’t name one of his songs outside of “Dreams and Nightmares.”
On to the next round.