If I needed a cigarette after game three, I need an oxygen tank after game four.
You saw a little bit of everything on Saturday – fighting, fouling, scrapping, turnovers, huge defensive stops, and a tight fourth quarter finish. Through it all, the Sixers kept their head above water and found a way to win a playoff road game while being totally out of whack for the better part of two and a half quarters.
The fact that they turned the ball over 26 times and still came out on top is nothing short of astounding. If Miami can’t get it done after throwing a haymaker barrage for the second straight game, then it’s time to wrap this series up and move on to the next round. The Heat fly back to Philadelphia down 3 to 1 in the series after failing to capitalize on two performances that probably should have been good enough for at least one win.
This game gave us our first truly tight fourth quarter, a series of possessions where we can really analyze how Brett Brown and the Sixers operated in crunch time.
It was 100-99 Philly with 1:00 to play and possession of the ball after a Joel Embiid turnover and Dwyane Wade layup. With the half-full American Airlines Arena finally showing a pulse, Brown went to the team’s staple horns set, and a JJ Redick back screen gave Ben Simmons a free run to the rim:
That’s a defensive mixup between Josh Richardson and James Johnson, and Simmons saw it all the way.
On the other end, Wade would answer with a 16-footer of his own, which brought us back down the floor with the Sixers again leading by one, this time with 30.1 seconds remaining. Brown went to another play that’s worked well before, something they used in the regular season in Miami, the Joel Embiid and Redick 25 action:
Very simple dribble hand off and a huge screen on Richardson, who got abused on the second straight possession with Hassan Whiteside unable to help. The only thing you’d ask for there is for Redick to get his feet behind the three point line. Otherwise, that’s perfectly run.
On the other end, Joel Embiid was whistled for a foul on Wade, though I think the refs got the wrong man. Embiid seemed to get all ball after Robert Covington had slapped Wade’s arm and caused the ball to pop free, yet Joel got the foul instead.
After Wade missed his second free throw, Redick crashed the glass for a rebound, took a Heat foul, and converted both foul shots at the other end. That was enough for a four point win after Miami missed on their final possession at the game.
They just executed mentally and physically in that final minute. They answered tough buckets with well-run sets and hit the free throws when it mattered.
Playoff basketball often comes down to fourth quarter half court possessions, and in their first real test of that this postseason, the players and the coach passed with flying colors.
14 points on 2-11 shooting, 12 rebounds, 1 assist, 1 steal, 8 turnovers.
It was the Joel I thought we might see in game three, a guy trying to shake off rust, trying to do too much, dribbling and putting the ball on the ground and turning it over. He was played physically by Bam Adebayo and headhunted by Miami players who attacked the ball and didn’t give him space to operate in the post.
And it looked like the mask was bothering him even more this time around, with more frustration and more instances of him pulling it over his head. He actually ran all the way down the court and blocked a Goran Dragic shot without the mask being properly settled over his eyes and face. He even got on the court without the mask and went through a play before the Sixers realized and grabbed a backup mask off the bench.
Through all of that, Embiid still found a way to impact the game, and he did it defensively, blocking five shots total and three in the fourth quarter alone. It was this rejection, rebound, and outlet pass that pulled the game level at 83 after the Sixers had been chasing for most of the afternoon:
That was probably his biggest contribution of the game, and even though Joel really struggled across the board, his fourth quarter rim protection helped the Sixers get enough stops to pull even and eventually claim the lead.
A couple of advanced stats help tell his story:
- 6 screen assists (team high)
- 4 loose balls recovered (team high)
- 15 contested shots (team high by a huge margin)
- 13 box outs (team high by a huge margin)
When nothing else is really clicking, you try to contribute in other areas, and he did that on Saturday.
They were out of control.
For context, the Sixers averaged just 11.3 turnovers through the first three games of this series. They coughed it up 26 times last night, tying their regular season high. That was the Milwaukee road game, the March trip to Wisconsin where they just totally fell apart after a good first quarter.
The Sixers reached their season average of 17 by halftime on Saturday. They hit 22 turnovers midway through the third quarter and Brett Brown decided to go small, spacing the floor a little bit and limiting the clunky touches his team was flubbing in the paint. That seemed to help a bit, as Embiid got a break on the bench and the Sixers regrouped to cut the lead to four heading into the fourth quarter.
They stepped up the defense in that period and held Miami to just 19 points. That was probably the difference, if you’re wondering how exactly they won that game. They limited the Heat to 41 second half points after allowing 61 in the first half.
Across the board, it’s not like they compensated for the turnovers in the typical areas. Normally, when the Sixers cough it up a bunch of times, they usually shoot themselves out of trouble. That wasn’t the case last night, because they only hit 42.9% from the field and just 22.6% from three (7-31).
What they did do was win in auxiliary areas to complement the second half defensive performance. They beat Miami 57 to 43 on the glass and grabbed 17 offensive rebounds, scoring 13 second chance points and limiting the Heat to 8. They scored 23 points off 19 Miami turnovers and won at the foul line, converting 27 of 35 attempts (77.1%) while Miami only went 13 for 25 (52%).
I also think Miami looked a little ragged out there in the fourth quarter. I mean, you’re playing a physical game, you take a lead into halftime, and your opponent just sort of shrugs off those blows and keeps coming at you. It’s like the MMA fighter who gets punched in the face 40 times and remains on his feet.
Outside of Wade, you don’t really have a go-to guy, and even then the 36-year-old veteran needed 22 shots and 6 free throw attempts to hit 25 points. Miami only hit 7 three pointers yesterday, and three were from Wayne Ellington in the first half.
The Sixers just sort of won a game of attrition. You have to outwit, outplay, and outlast, like the TV show Survivor, only this time Ben Simmons is calling the shots in place of Jeff Probst.
Backup Ball Handling
Simmons played 39 minutes last night, just one less than the 40 he played in game three. Markelle Fultz did not play and T.J. McConnell logged 2 points, 4 rebounds, and 3 turnovers in 9 minutes. He was a +1 on the day.
The second unit point guard position is becoming an interesting subplot here, the topic of a lengthy Crossing Broad Slack chat discussion post-game. Consensus seems to be that Fultz is the more talented player while being a defensive liability. T.J. has his limitations but also has more experience and probably gives you more defensively, which is why Brown decided to go with him.
Maybe it makes sense to go outside of this series and look at minutes per game across the postseason. Here’s the top 12:
Simmons is 8th overall in MPG. Lillard and McCollum actually played about 37 and 36 minutes each in the regular season, so they were up 3-4 minutes each before being swept out of the postseason. Jrue Holiday played 36 MPG in the regular season and is now up to 37.5 (difference there is that they’re getting 35.3 MPG from Rajon Rondo). Russell Westbrook played 36.4 in the regular season and is up about a minute in the playoffs.
Ben played 33.7 MPG this year, so he does see one of the more steep postseason increases. Most guys are only upping their totals by 2-3 minutes, while Ben is up 4.3 in this area.
Thing is, he never really looks tired. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him bent over, trying to catch his breath. Does he sweat? My gut tells me they’re fine here, as long as they’re getting the occasional two-day break between playoff games, which is the case right now. Remember, Ben was playing 33.7 per game on shorter rest this year, and now he’s playing 38 per game on extra rest. That considered, I think his minutes are a wash.
That doesn’t solve the Fultz/McConnell problem, but should make you feel at least a little bit better about whether or not Simmons can handle the load.
You knew it was going to boil over at some point.
It happened in the second quarter, when Simmons fouled Dragic and Covington gave him a shove after the whistle:
— Kenny Ducey (@KennyDucey) April 21, 2018
I think they handled that pretty well. Simmons was whistled for the original foul, then double technicals for Covington and Johnson. I don’t think the refs needed to do anything more than that.
You saw Simmons throw a hard screen on the next trip down the floor, and whether or not you thought it was a foul, you have to realize that the refs are going to blow the whistle there considering what just happened at the other end of the floor. If they don’t, they risk another scrum.
That was basically it – a questionable shove from Covington, some extracurricular activity, and a clinch between Simmons and Johnson with other guys coming in to do the separation. Considering the fact that a young team could have gone off the rails there, I think the Sixers did a good job of holding it together.
- Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric were again fantastic on the offensive glass, pulling down 9 of the team’s 17 offensive boards. Ilyasova particularly just positions himself so well on these plays, with smart tip outs and timing. There was one where he banked it off the backboard to himself, then got two hands on the ball. This stuff really gives the Sixers some bite on the glass even when running that small shooter lineup.
- Uncontested field goals were another issue on Saturday, just 34.9% on UFGs after hitting above 50% in game three.
- Points in the paint – 58 for Miami. It was the first time this series that the Heat really did damage in this category.
- To the stat above, Hassan Whiteside actually showed up. He played a series high 26 minutes and contributed 13 points and 13 rebounds while turning the ball over four times (and being a non-factor in the final minute). Kelly Olynyk only played 9 minutes while Bam Adebayo got 16.
- Dragic killed the Sixers with a couple of backdoor cuts. They’ll see that on the tape and adjust.
- Redick had a team-high 24 points while only shooting 2-9 from three. He was 6-9 from two and 6-6 at the free throw line and scored the team’s 4 final points. That’s the biggest takeaway for me, that late-game execution, which hasn’t always been there from him this season. And even if he’s not hitting from deep, he’s finding ways to get looks elsewhere, with that curl to the elbow and some drives to the rack following defender overplays.