Dwyane Wade entered the game with 4:15 remaining in the fourth quarter, stole the ball from Dario Saric, and flushed it down at the other end.
It kickstarted a 6-0 run that would essentially put the game away, extending the Miami lead from two to eight after the Sixers had spent the entirety of the second half clawing, scraping, and chipping away at a double digit Heat lead, only to see the comeback effort fall apart in the dying moments.
In a game featuring a lot of takeaways, that was probably the biggest one. Wade’s reintroduction stabilized Miami in crunch time, and he led all scorers with 28 points off the bench in a gritty and physical game two.
Brett Brown echoed those thoughts when asked what went wrong down the stretch.
“I think Dwyane’s steal on Dario – we’re on a 16-2 run – and I think it was three minutes or four minutes left and he came from behind and stole that ball from Dario,” Brown said. “With a minute or something left we had that offensive rebound, and (Robert Covington) tried to find JJ and ended up throwing that pass between his legs. But I give Miami credit; I felt like the runs we were making, that they ended up making some shots to stop the runs. I give them credit. But I think Dwyane’s steal changed the game. If you had to pick one defining moment, one defining play. I think it was that.”
Brett’s right; it felt like Miami would answer every time Philly was able to get within single digits. Kelly Olynyk hit a couple of big shots specifically, and it seemed like one of those games where the Sixers were going to be kept at arm’s length, no matter how hard they fought. When they finally did get within striking distance, Wade took over from there, and now we’ve got a 1-1 series heading down to Miami.
The pessimist would point to the Sixers shooting poorly and struggling to get into their offensive rhythm and flow. You could point to Miami’s hand checking and grabbing and slapping and bitch and complain about the officiating, which was pretty rough for both teams, if we’re being honest.
The optimist would say that they cut a double-digit deficit to two despite playing an atrocious second quarter, a period in which they were outscored 30 to 13 (Wade actually had more points than the Sixers in that quarter.) If Philadelphia’s 18-28 three point mark in game one was unsustainable, then last night’s 7-36 mark was an aberration weighing down the other end of the scale.
And of course you can point to the absence of Joel Embiid, who said after the game that he’s “fucking sick and tired of being babied.” I would be stunned if he doesn’t play in game three.
So it depends how you want to look at it. Whatever the case, I think this was a somewhat sobering loss. Or.. I dunno. I don’t know if “sobering” is the right word, but it’s more of a “come back down to Earth” type of thing. I don’t know how realistic it was to think the Sixers were going to win 18 in a row or rip off three straight victories to open the series or sweep a well-coached team like Miami. A lot of folks out there were throwing out these outrageous predictions, claiming that the Sixers were going to roll right into the NBA finals. That was never going to be the case, and now you’ve got a young-ish team really learning what playoff basketball is all about.
The biggest difference you saw from Miami last night was that they were much more aggressive on defense. They pestered on the perimeter and forced a lot of dribbling out of JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli and didn’t really allow a ton of easy stuff, though the Sixers did find ways to get off some clean looks.
Saric explained what he saw from the Heat:
“They were a totally different team than the first game. I think they were trying to go over the screens and trying to breathe down our necks, you know? They really wanted to win this game, and we were a little bit surprised in the first and second quarter, and in the second half we really started to play, but it was already late, if you ask me. For the next game, we need the same attitude that they had in this game. I think we can beat them there, for sure.”
You saw a lot of this last night:
Josh Richardson is on Redick there, denies him the first look, and JJ tries to wrap around a Simmons screen coming the other way. Richardson goes over the screen, gets his hands in there a little bit, and just contests that shot, makes it uncomfortable. We’ve seen Sixers’ shooters hit those tough looks before, but Miami just did a nice job at being annoying on the outside, maybe a little grabby, and forcing Philly to work for shots.
They finished with a woeful 19.4% mark from the three-point line:
I highlighted Covington’s 1-9 above, which really should have been 0-8, because the one deep ball he did hit took place in garbage time. He had a terrible game shooting the ball, almost matching the 0-10 mark he put up against Miami once before in the regular season. The entire squad actually started 1-13 from three (7.7%) and didn’t get their second to drop until the 4:19 mark in the second quarter.
Going through the regular season box scores, they only shot worse than 20% three times over the course of 82 games. Last night was their fourth-worst three-point shooting performance of the entire year:
It should make Sixers fans feel a little better, because it’s hard to imagine that they put up another ghastly clunker like this one.
I mentioned in the series previews that somebody always seems to have an off night against Miami, but I highly doubt that Covington, Redick, and Belinelli all go cold at the same time again. Covington took a horrendously poor 25 foot attempt with 5:00 remaining in the fourth quarter, which brought a lot of groans from the crowd. He was off-balance and didn’t seem comfortable at all last night. If you’re asking me for the most disappointing performance of the game, he’s the unfortunate, yet obvious selection.
Ilyasova and Whiteside
The Sixers started their small ball lineup last night and brought Amir Johnson off the bench instead. Miami rolled out their normal five with Hassan Whiteside at center.
Let me ask you this; does anything impress you about Whiteside? Erik Spoelstra gave him some praise after the game for bringing Miami 15 quality minutes, but I thought he looked soft again last night, contributing just four points and five rebounds while turning it over three times and picking up his fourth foul early in the third quarter. I just don’t see it. I see a huge guy who plays with no edge at all, no drive and no desire.
To that point, Miami again lost the rebounding contest, 49 to 46, and also allowed 17 on the offensive glass. Philly scored 27 second chance points and 57 in the paint, two things that Whiteside can directly influence, but hasn’t in this series. Ilyasova alone had 6 offensive boards and Johnson went for a scrappy 6, 7, and 2 with a steal. I thought the decision to start small with Ersan and Dario made sense, and I didn’t see anything over the course of the game to convince me otherwise.
I suppose we’d be sitting here talking about how smart Brett Brown is if the Sixers hit some of their three pointers early. Embiid will come back and help relieve some of the perimeter pressure the team experienced last night, and you’ll get more of an inside-out game with his ability to take touches in the low post. As long as he doesn’t get into a junk fest with Whiteside when he returns, I think Joel can really turn the tide in this series.
Pressing the issue
One thing Miami did really well was show some full court pressure to disrupt the Sixers’ ability to get into their rhythm and offensive flow.
I was trying to cut a specific clip that kept freezing on me, I think just a glitch in the broadcast, so I apologize for having to start with a still image instead, but this was one of those sequences:
Full court press off a made free-throw. Looks like some Bob Huggins stuff.
Miami kept up the pressure into their defensive half, which resulted in Simmons being a bit stymied before he was whistled for an offensive foul here:
Another wrinkle there, just throwing the full court and trying to unsettle Simmons as a ball handler. I think he actually did a pretty good job of it, just two turnovers all night for Ben, but Brown could have brought in a second ball handler in T.J. McConnell or Markelle Fultz and opted not to.
Miami threw the press again in the third quarter, but Saric did an excellent job breaking it:
Dario “Carson Wentz” Saric pic.twitter.com/0kJZSAMmfs
— Brandon Lee Gowton (@BrandonGowton) April 17, 2018
Brett Brown on Simmons’ game and how he dealt with the pressure:
“Yea I thought he was good. What was he, 24, 8, and 8 with only two turnovers? He’s gonna learn more about himself in this playoff experience than anything in the regular season. It teaches you. For the large majority of our NBA season, we went through defenses that never left the paint, their pick-up points were back at the foul line as Ben was dribbling up the floor. Tonight the whole thing changed; it was a little bit like what Kris Dunn did to him in Chicago. I would say it’s 95 to 5, 95% that they didn’t really guard him in the regular season, and 5% where they would get out and try to chase him. Tonight they did (chase). I thought, for the most part, that he handled it well. There’s always going to be point guard moments where (you wonder), ‘what are we doing? what are in?’ But, by and large, I thought he handled their pressure and physicality well.”
I would tend to agree with that.
Brown did have options in that second quarter. He could have gone Simmons/Fultz and paired that non-shooting back court with Ilyasova, Saric, and Covington, or even used Covington at the 4 with Belinelli playing some 3. We’ll see if he goes that route on Thursday if Miami shows the same looks. He does have a way to get three shooters and two ball handlers on the floor.
- I’m sort of over Kevin Hart. I think we saw enough of him during the Eagles run. Might be time for him to take a back seat for a bit, go on vacation or work on another movie.
- Brett probably could have brought Justin Anderson in to lock up Wade in the 2nd quarter
- McConnell and Richaun Holmes look like they’re not going to viable options in this series, T.J. might be if Brett tries that super small double ball-handler look
- Redick missed two free throws in a game for only the third time this season. He shoots 90% on free throws.
- BRILLIANT foul by Wade when Simmons had that clean breakaway in the fourth. If he lets that go, that’s the type of dunk that rallies a team and gets the crowd rocking.
- Wade said he was not staring down Allen Iverson last night. Too much respect for A.I. He was staring down Hart instead.
- James Johnson and Goran Dragic hit shots last night. 7-7 for Johnson and 8-14 from Dragic, who put up 20 points in 25 minutes.
- Erik Spoelstra really likes to use the word “force” in his press conferences.
- A t-shirt, shot out of the cannon, misfired and landed between the media tables. That’s only the second time it’s happened this season. I tried to throw it to a little girl behind us, but missed, and some adult got it instead.
- The officiating was bad, but to my earlier point about it going both ways, I think Miami got the worst call of the game:
There’s NO WAY this is a foul on Ellington pic.twitter.com/o6ayKiWpJ0
— BBALLBREAKDOWN (@bballbreakdown) April 17, 2018