Previewing the Sixers and the Heat, Part Two: The Season Series

Photo Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

No fancy introduction here, let’s just git ‘er done, as Larry the Cable Guy would say.

The Sixers and Heat split the season series this year, 2-2, and if you remember anything about those games, all four were competitive deep into the fourth quarter. Each matchup was decided by single digits, with the Sixers winning by 6 and 2 at home and losing by 1 and 9 on the road.

I’ll go game-by-game, but let me start by pulling the splits for the Heat and Sixers to see how they performed against their season averages vs. each other.

Heat stats vs. Sixers (better = performed above season average, worse = performed below season average):

  • 102.3 PPG (worse)
  • 43.9 FG% (worse)
  • 39.3 3P% (better)
  • 22 assists (worse)
  • 41 rebounds (worse)
  • 9 offensive rebounds (worse)
  • 8.5 steals (better)
  • 6.8 blocks (better)
  • 13.8 turnovers (better)
  • 101 defensive rating (better)

The Sixers did a nice job of limiting Miami’s offensive output via overall field goal percentage, but the Heat actually shot the three pointer 3 percentage points above their season averages. Philly also did well to curb Miami’s rebounding strengths, but Erik Spoelstra’s team was better than advertised defensively, performing above their marks in steals, blocks, and DEFRTG.

Here are the Sixers’ splits against the Heat:

  • 101.8 PPG (worse)
  • 43.2 FG% (worse)
  • 34.6 3P% (worse)
  • 26.5 assists (worse)
  • 47.3 rebounds (same)
  • 12.8 offensive rebounds (better)
  • 8.5 steals (better)
  • 3.3 blocks (worse)
  • 17.5 turnovers (worse)
  • 102.7 defensive rating (worse)

They really didn’t shoot the ball that well against Miami this year, with a 4% drop in field goal percentage and a 2.3% drop from three. Their overall points per game were down from 109.8 and they didn’t defend Miami as well as other teams. I think part of that can attributed to the fact that Joel Embiid only played in three of the four regular season matchups, and he looked pretty ragged in the finale, so keep that in mind when considering the overall numbers Philadelphia put up against Miami this year.

To the matchups:

Friday, February 2nd: Sixers 103, Heat 97 (Wells Fargo Center)

You probably remember the fourth quarter collapse in this game. Or maybe you erased it from memory.

The Sixers had a 26 point lead that dwindled to 6 as Miami outscored Philly 37 to 17 in the fourth quarter, and they did it without Hassan Whiteside, who left the game due to illness. Kelly Olynyk led the Heat with 19 points while All-Star Goran Dragic mustered just 10, 2, and 1. Angry Ben Simmons, seemingly irked at the ASG snub, went for 20, 6, and 5.

Part of the issue for the collapse was that the Sixers’ bench was still very raw back then. No Marco Belinelli, no Ersan Ilyasova, no Markelle Fultz. This was the first night of a back-to-back and Embiid was set to play the following night in Indiana, his first B2B ever, so Brett Brown was trying to juggle his minutes with a poor bench.

He admitted as much post game, giving in to hindsight:

“I think I probably would have played Joel his full sort of rotation. You look up at the scoreboard and you’re up 28 at home and you have a back to back game the next night. I never take anything for granted, I hope you just walk of line of, ‘well, this is smart, we got this one wrapped up.’ It wasn’t (like that). We were at home, I felt like we were playing quite well, and you click your heels and the NBA is the NBA. If I had to do it again, I would have ridden out Jo because the group we had on the court, our bench group, there’s some scoring deficiencies (with) that group. I think they play hard and play good defense, but my first reaction would be (to play Joel more).”

The Sixers only committed 10 turnovers in the win, but Embiid had six alone, half of which came in the fourth quarter, including this one:

It was a strange game overall. Miami’s starting group had nothing, contributing just 40 of 97 points. The combination of Olynyk, Bam Adebayo, Justise Winslow, and Wayne Ellington put up 57, outscoring the Sixer bench by 34 points.

I don’t see the bench stuff being an issue with the way the Sixers’ roster is now constructed. February 2nd feels like a long time ago, with two completely different teams going at it.

Wednesday, February 14th: Sixers 104, Heat 102 (Wells Fargo Center)

It’s easy to look at this score and forget that they were down by 23 at halftime. It was one of the worst halves of basketball they played this season, missing Embiid due to right ankle soreness.

But the second was one of their best, and they erased the deficit while holding Miami to just 40 second half points. At this point, Belinelli was now in the fold, and he contributed 17 off the bench to complement 19 from Dario Saric and 18 from Simmons.

Even after all of that, it came down to the final seconds, and JJ Redick, who did not have a great shooting night, hit this awkward 19-footer to give the Sixers a three-point lead:

Philly hit a pair of foul shots to increase the lead to five, then Tyler Johnson answered with a three pointer to the cut the lead back down to two.

So all the Sixers really had to do was get the ball in play, take the foul, hit two more free throws, and that would do it.

But they suffered another bad turnover when Simmons couldn’t connect with Belinelli on the inbound play:

They wanted to go to Redick there, but Wade did a nice job of taking that option away, which forced the turnover.

Wade ended up missing a 27-footer as the clock expired, and the entirety of the Wells Fargo Center, waiting to exhale like that Angela Bassett movie, was finally able to exhale.

So they got the job done and completed the comeback without Embiid, but the Sixers had some fourth quarter ball handling issues in the first two games against Miami. Simmons had 3 turnovers alone in the final period of this game.

Tuesday, February 27th: Heat 102, Sixers 101 (American Airlines Arena)

The Dwayne Wade dagger game. Remember that? Yea, you do. He scored 15 of Miami’s final 17 points.

This was one of the more aggravating losses of the season for Sixer fans, featuring a brutal turnover, a questionable foul call, and an open Redick look that he couldn’t knock down to win the game. It was the one the Sixers really should have won, considering that they held a 10 point lead with 9:21 left to play.

It was 98-95 Sixers with 1:47 left in the fourth quarter, then this happened:

  • Wade miss
  • Redick turnover (missed alley oop for Ben Simmons)
  • Whiteside and Embiid trade buckets
  • Wade “fouled” on three-point attempt, hits 3/3 free throws
  • Simmons intentionally fouled, makes 1/2 free throws
  • Wade hits go-ahead shot
  • Redick misses open three
  • Sixers lose

Miami actually messed up in this game, a miscommunication between Spoelstra and Wade on the Simmons foul.

From the ESPN recap:

Wade got fouled on a 3-point try with 29 seconds left and the Heat down by three. The plan that Spoelstra laid out was for the Heat to foul Simmons — a 57 percent foul shooter — if Wade missed one of the three foul shots. Wade made all three, but fouled Simmons anyway.

…………

Wade didn’t seem aware of the plan to foul only if he missed one of the three.

“I wanted to foul,” Wade said. “I had confidence in myself that I was going to make all three. They kept running (the same) pick and roll, and it was killing us and I just felt playing the numbers … I wanted the young fella to see, in this environment, what he’s going to do.”

That pick and roll Wade mentioned is here, the “25” Embiid/Redick look that Brett Brown frequently turned to in the fourth quarter in February and March:

For everything Whiteside does well, sliding to the perimeter on a pick and pop isn’t his best skill, and the Sixers found a lot of success with that simple 2/5 look.

They got him again two minutes later, this time Embiid taking Whiteside to the rim:

You do see moments of solid execution in these Miami 4th quarters. You see some pick and roll, a UCLA cut here and there, and some low-post looks for Ben Simmons on that backside baseline screen. But, again, turnovers were an issue in this game – 23 overall and 6 in the fourth quarter. Redick had 5, Embiid had 5, and Simmons had 4, and Miami scored 26 points off Philly mishaps.

Redick had a chance to win the game with a wide-open look at the end, but couldn’t get it to drop, which resulted in a lot of grumbling on Twitter, most of which has now subsided.

Thursday, March 8th: Heat 108, Sixers 99 (American Airlines Arena)

A crap shooting night, just 39.5% from the field and their sixth-worst FG clip of the season. Robert Covington finished 0-10 and Embiid was 5-18, an off night for him while rival Whiteside went for 26 and 8 in the regular season finale.

You probably remember this nonsense from the game:

Embiid called Whiteside “soft” after the play, which sets up nicely for this playoff series.

At the time, the Sixers were coming off their last real road trip of the season and had played six of seven away from Philly. I think they just looked a little ragged in this game, falling back to Earth after a stellar 57.5% shooting night just two days prior in Charlotte.

And Joel, specifically, did look a bit tired, but I don’t think his defense was horrendous in this game. Whiteside was hitting junk like this all night long:

You just have to give him that. If he’s gonna hit turnaround fades, then it is what it is. The Sixers eventually got the lead down to five, but you just never really felt like they a threat to pull in front.

Patterns and Conclusions

When I rewatch all of that, I just feel like the biggest matchup in this series is the Sixers vs. themselves.

It really is.

It’s a matter of cutting down on those killer late turnovers and asserting their will on defense the way they’ve been doing it all year long.

They are the more talented team, no question. They have more game changers. They have the athleticism and the star power to get it done. Miami is well-coached, shrewd, and steady, so they’re really not going to give you a bunch of easy looks or second chance buckets or transition opportunities, which I mentioned yesterday in part one of the preview series.

From a Sixer perspective, one thing that jumps out to me is that someone always seems to have an off night against Miami. Covington had the 0-10 game. Here’s how Redick did in each game:

  • 5-15, 0-4 from three, 13 points
  • 6-19, 2-12 from three, 14 points
  • 4-14, 2-8 from three, 15 points
  • 6-11, 4-6 from three, 18 points

JJ only hit better than 25% from deep in one game against Miami, the game where everybody else struggled.

Same with Embiid, who put up these lines against the Heat:

  • 7-17, 17 points and 11 rebounds
  • 9-16, 23 points and 8 rebounds
  • 5-18, 17 points and 7 rebounds

He’s putting up 23 and 11 this year, so he finished below his averages in three combined games against Miami.

How about Ben Simmons? His numbers look good:

  • 20 points, 6 rebounds, 5 assists
  • 18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists
  • 11 points, 6 rebounds, 6 assists
  • 10 points, 8 rebounds, 8 assists

Ben has been pretty steady against Miami, with a triple-double and three shooting nights at 50% or better. I think he’s really the key to this series with Embiid unlikely to feature until game two or three (probably three).

Truly, the best Sixer performer against the Heat this season has been Dario Saric, who put up 17, 19, 21, and 20 points in those four games, on top of rebounding numbers of 10, 8, 7, and 10. He pulled down 11 offensive boards total, or 2.75 per game.

Look at Dario’s splits against Miami vs. a bunch of other NBA teams:

49% from the field and 44.8% from three is elite stuff compared to season averages of 45% and 39%, respectively.

His steadiness is a huge boon for the Sixers going into this series, especially considering how he looked on Wednesday against Milwaukee, shaking off the rust from the elbow and tooth issues to pour in 24 points on 10-19 shooting.

Robert Covington, on the opposite end of the spectrum, really struggled offensively against the Heat, hitting field goals and three pointers at just 21% and putting up just 7.5 points per game. Only against San Antonio and Portland did he put up a smaller PPG number this year. Defensively he’s always sound, but he’s had a hell of a time on the other end of the court against “El Heat.”

From a Miami perspective, a quick look at the splits shows Goran Dragic with 14, 4, and 4 against Philly. That’s down from season averages of 17, 4, and 5, so he really hasn’t done a ton of damage to the Sixers. Whiteside put up 15 and 10 in the regular season series to essentially match his season averages, and Tyler Johnson, James Johnson, and Olynyk had a decent night here or there.

But nobody on that roster has really killed the Sixers this year. When you look at that roster, who strikes fear into your heart? Dragic? Whiteside? Olynyk? Josh Richardson? Wade is really the only guy who jumps off the page as a legitimate playoff threat, and I think he’s going to be a total pain in the ass for Brett Brown’s team in this series.

Otherwise, it’s what I said above – the Sixers vs. themselves, even Brown vs. Erik Spoelstra in a matchup between experience and non-experience, at least in a head coaching role. I know Brett has been there with San Antonio, but he’s the main man for the first time ever.

I think Philly is the better team, but don’t sleep on Miami at all. I could easily see this going to seven games, highlighted by some brutally stressful fourth-quarters.

Prediction:

  • Game 1: Sixers
  • Game 2: Sixers
  • Game 3: Heat
  • Game 4: Heat
  • Game 5: Sixers
  • Game 6: Heat
  • Game 7: Sixers

Sixers outlast Miami to move on to the next round.

Time’s yours.

 

 

 

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