The Philadelphia 76ers and Miami Heat are tied 1-1 in the first round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The process is becoming more difficult to trust for some people after the Heat responded with a gritty performance in Game 2 and Joel Embiid displayed his dissatisfaction with being held out due to an orbital fracture (and recently being declared doubtful for Game 3).
The Sixers now have to win a game on the road to win the series. All hope isn’t lost. Remember the Sixers won 28 games last year and 10 the year before that. This season’s already been a success.
Before Monday’s 113-103 Game 2 loss to the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers were winners of 17 straight. More than half of those games were without the injured Joel Embiid. Now that’s not to say the Sixers are better without Embiid (they aren’t) but the team has shown they are capable of winning without him. And, as the No. 3 seed, a loss to the less-talented Miami Heat would be a disappointing upset for Philadelphia.
Here are a few keys to a Game 3 victory for the Sixers.
Without Embiid, the advantages of having Ben Simmons as the focal offensive player were on full display in Game 1 when the Sixers scored 130 points and won by 27. Simmons dished out 14 assists. Five players (Dario Saric 4, Robert Covington 2, J.J. Redick 4, Ersan Ilyasova 3, Marco Belinelli 4) hit two or more threes. As a whole, the Sixers shot 18-28 (64.3%) from three. Not often do you blow a team out when allowing over 100 points but the Sixers’ shooting made it happen.
Game 2 was the polar opposite. The whole team went cold from three, shooting 7-for-36 (19.4%). That is something that just can’t happen if they hope to win the series. Philadelphia has an abundance of above-average shooters. Even if one player can pick up the slack from the three-point line when the rest of the team is struggling it will help immensely. Saric heated up and made two of his three shots from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter of Game 2 and it was almost enough to bring the Sixers back. Someone needs to do step up and do this earlier in the game if the shots aren’t falling for the Sixers to win Game 3.
Match Miami’s defensive intensity
The main reason the Sixers lost Game 2 was because of Miami’s stifling defense. Basically the entire Heat roster consists of players capable of playing tough, physical, borderline-dirty defense in Kelly Olynyk, Justise Winslow, James Johnson, Josh Richardson and Hassan Whiteside.
They did just that in Game 2.
Erik Spoelstra used a combination of players to harass Simmons the length of the court for the entire game. Simmons was up for the challenge and responded by making many tough layups in traffic later in the game. It was too late.
The defensive pressure also rattled the Philadelphia three-point shooters. The pace of the game was much slower than Game 1 and shots beyond the arc weren’t as open in the crowded half-court.
The Sixers must match the intensity and return the physicality on the defensive end so they don’t fall into an insurmountable hole like they did in the second quarter of Game 2 when their shots weren’t falling and the Heat outscored them 34-13.
James Johnson (7-for-7 from the field, 18 points), Goran Dragic (8-for-14, 20 points) and Dwyane Wade (11-for-16, 28 points) made tough shots but also had many open shots due to lackadaisical defense and it proved to be the difference.
A slowed-down, half-court style of game favors the Heat especially without Embiid’s presence in the paint to grab rebounds, contest shots and post-up which leads me to my next point…
Let Joel Embiid play
As stated before, Embiid voiced his frustration with not being on the court with his teammates. He sustained a concussion and broken orbital bone in a freak collision with teammate Markelle Fultz on March 28. The suspected timetable for recovery was two to four weeks.
It makes sense for the team to hold him out in hopes of not re-injuring himself, but it’s the playoffs. They could do it without him, as shown in Game 1, but Game 2 showed the importance of Embiid being on the court.
Making the playoffs isn’t guaranteed every season. Players have played with protective masks on before. Risk the consequences.
If he wants to play, let him play, before it’s too late.