Just like in game one, the atmosphere was electric in the Wells Fargo Center, however last night’s performance was anything but. The Sixers slipped to a ten point defeat in game two of their playoff series against the Miami Heat, but it could’ve been much worse.
When we look at the reason’s for the loss, it’s easy to point the finger. Nobody expected the Sixers to sustain their emphatic efficiency from beyond the arc, but many hoped for some kind of production from outside, especially as it had become a growing focus without Embiid. Fans were met with a team that shot a dismal 19.6% (7/36) from downtown. The sharpshooters who have been heralded in recent weeks including J.J Redick, Marco Belinelli and Dario Saric all struggled to find a rhythm. But while the Sixers hammered the same button hoping that something would change, Miami flipped the tables. If we forget the obscurely intensive refereeing that ripped the heart out of just about every run possible, that was the real trouble.
The Heat were embarrassed in game one. The Sixers ran rampant and had plenty of fun doing so. It’s not something Miami should ever have been expected to take lightly, especially with a proven playoff coach in Erik Spoelstra. Surely, the Heat would not allow the Sixers to dance around the perimeter and wreak havoc for a second night? Of course not. That would just be silly.
Whiteside played just 15 minutes, but that was the plan from the get-go this time. The Heat decided to fight fire with fire and instead of playing with a lot interior depth, handed 37 minutes to James Johnson, who hit all 7 of his field goal attempts and both 3-point efforts.
Off the bench, Olynk was supported by a phenomenal showing from Dwayne Wade and 11 points from Wayne Ellington. Both players saw huge minute increases compared to the first clash, giving Miami a little more offensive firepower and forming a defensive brick wall that forced pressure from 38 feet. The Heart operated a full-court press that forced the Sixers ball-spreading mentality to be pushed to the next level, with tiny pockets of space to operate.
Shooting from range is always a blessing and a curse. If you’re hot, you’re red hot and if you’re cold, you had better find another way to get the ball in the basket. Miami knew that Philadelphia were going to be forced into that box without Embiid, but knew that simply forcing them outside wouldn’t be enough, because after all, it’s an uneducated risk.
Instead, they ramped up the physicality. Every foul was pushed to its limit, contact was at an all-time high and the bruising nature of the team was on full display. The Sixers were rattled. While Miami continued to elbow, shove and push their way to open shots, Philadelphia struggled to match it. Getting into foul trouble early stung the team, but the Sixers were biting at every bit of bait laid by the Heat in the first half.
One thing the team did do well, was shut down Wade in the second half. Brett Brown caught on to the Dribble Hand Off that was cutting deep into the paint time and time again. But that wasn’t enough to stop the bleeding. By the time Philly had figured out a way to come back at their opponents, the Heat were matching them stride for stride.
So what options do the Sixers have ahead of game 3? In enemy territory coming off of their first loss in 18 games, it’s important not to hit the panic button. But would a pairing of Markelle Fultz and Ben Simmons on the court at the same time really be that risky?
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Spacing may well be an issue, but Miami made it abundantly clear that they will grab and pretty much mosh-pit their way into any kind of shooting pocket to completely disrupt the motion offense. Having two players who can drive to the basket would attract a lot of attention and maybe even force Whiteside back onto the court, therefore re-opening up the offense that Brown and the Sixers like to run.
Not that I’d directly correlate the absence of Fultz with the loss, but the rookie only played in 5 minutes in game two. Now those five minutes weren’t exactly encouraging, with Fultz committing a turnover and being forced to unleash a jumper that’s still in the works, going 0-3 from the field. However, with Simmons there for support, having two players who can run an offense and bounce off of one another may be the kind of unpredictable catalyst needed to put Spoelstra back on his toes.
If the Heat are insisting on pressuring the Sixers every step down the court, having a group of players who can decimate inside the paint seems logical, because there’s going to be an odd-man advantage, or at least enough of a window for a dish outside to make an open shot.
A lack of adjustment hurt the Sixers in game two and it propelled the Heat to a win. Nobody is expecting the playbook to be ripped up, but that’s not to say a youth infusion wouldn’t give the team a much needed boost…especially if Embiid is still out.
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports