The Philadelphia 76ers are a real threat in the Eastern Conference. Many may have thought that once the playoffs arrived that the team would wilt due to a lack of experience and the apparent devaluing of the 16-game win streak to end the season. They didn’t really play a lot of good teams during the streak. They were too inexperienced and wouldn’t be able to adapt to playoff basketball where defense wins and the games are tough. Well, after three games against the Miami Heat, you can see that this team looks to be up to the challenge.
‘The Phantom of the Process’ makes his playoff debut:
Joel Embiid saw his status change from out to doubtful to probable within a 24-hour window leading up to Game Three. If anyone outside of Philly thought that Embiid wasn’t going to play, they were crazy. The guy has been itching to play and didn’t care what sacrifice to himself it would take to get on the floor. But, the Sixers coaches saw enough of him and the rest he had to put him in. The only answer that the Miami Heat had for stopping Embiid was getting him off the floor.
Coach Brett Brown was probably already thinking of restricting some minutes on his center since he hadn’t played in three weeks, but the Heat had other plans. Justice Winslow, in particular, stomped on Embiids mask and then picked it up and tried to break it, just to get Embiid out of the game. That worked for four minutes. While Embiid committed a few turnovers and looked a little tired at points, he shot 45% from the field and finished with 23 points, 7 rebounds and three blocked shots. A crucial block on Winslow, immediately following Winslows (foul) block on Embiid at the other end of the court, really helped the Sixers as Joel came down and hit a three pointer right after.
The Heat have no answer for Embiid, including Hassan Whiteside who only played 11 minutes, then griped about it after the game. They just can’t handle the big man and really there isn’t a team in the Eastern Conference that can. It should makefor a good run in the playoffs.
Ben Simmons is out there doing Ben Simmons things:
For the bulk of the regular season, Simmons flirted near a triple double more often than not. He finished the season with 12 of them, second only to Oscar Robertson among rookies in NBA history. In the Playoffs, Ben is at it again. For the series he’s averaging 20 points, 10 rebounds and 9.7 assists to go along with 2 steals per game. It’s not that the Heat are stopping him or controlling him but rather how assertive Ben becomes during the games.
He has the vision and ability to do what he wants on the floor at any time. With the ball in his hand the defense tries to fade away from him when he’s on the perimeter as they don’t fear his outside shooting ability. This is a problem as he can put passes wherever he wants at any given time as well as it gives him the space to pick his drives and score at will. Simmons was asked toward the end of the season why he doesn’t shoot jumpers and he responded asking, “why should I?” because he can get to the hoop when he wants. As he feels the need to become more assertive in the game, you’ll see him takeover.
When the team wasn’t shooting as well in Game Two, Simmons took his time and picked his spots for 24 points on 10-17 shooting. When Game Three came around and the shooters were making them, Simmons dished out 14 assists. He has a basketball IQ that’s off the charts and can do pretty much whatever he wants during games. As the playoffs progress, he’ll have to do more, but he seems more than capable of putting the team on his back and taking over when needed.
Justin Anderson plays the bad guy:
Justin Anderson saw limited minutes in the first game and none in the second. Coincidentally, Dwayne Wade went off in game two, so Brett Brown decided to get Anderson in to the game and hoped it would get Wade off of his. Worked like a charm. Wade was so frustrated that he grabbed Anderson by the arm and threw him out of bounds. While the Sixers weren’t getting much love from the refs in Miami, both dfrew technical fouls, but you’d have to believe that if the roles were reversed, Anderson would have been tossed.
Wade became a non-factor in the game shooting 2-10 from the field and finishing with 8 points. Thank Justin Anderson for being such a pest that it really put Wade back in his place as a former star who is leaning on his name more than his ability at this point of his career.
Three pointers are how they make their money:
The Sixers made a franchise record 18 three-pointers in the opening win against Miami, then got cold in game two. In Game Three, it was back to form as the Sixers shot over 50% from beyond the arc and finished 18-34 on three pointers. When their shooters are clicking the team doesn’t seem to be able to be stopped. With Ilyasova, Belinelli, Covington, Saric and Redick all taking up minutes on the first and second units, it’s hard for opposing teams to rest as these five continue to shoot and shoot well from the outside. It’s a huge reason why the two Sixers wins have been by 27 and 20 points and their one loss they only scored 103 points. They’re averaging 129 in their wins. If they continue to stay hot, which they’ve been for over a month now, it’s going to be a real problem for anyone that they face throughout the playoffs.
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The team is in stride and they’re only getting better:
Despite the second game of the series, the Sixers unit seems to be playing remarkably well together and the second unit has not been playing poorly as it did early in the year. The addition of Belinelli and Ilyasova to the second unit as well as the return of Markelle Fultz has really strengthened the reserves for the Sixers and they’re not giving up leads like they were early in the year.
The Miami Heat saw what happened to them in game one and decided that game two would be way more physical. Resorting back to the Alonzo Mourning days of hacking and trying to get under peoples skin worked well in game two, but it didn’t have the same effect in game three. The Sixers knew how the Heat would be playing and came back with their own rough style. They kept their pace up and while sloppy to start the game, they found their groove in the second half and started to dismantle the Heat. Each time the Heat made a big play or seemed to be getting more physical with the Sixers, the Sixers responded with their own force and grabbed back the game.
You could see it in one whole sequence in the second half. Justice Winslow was having a great game, stepped over and blocked (fouled) Embiid on a dunk attempt. No foul was called and Embiid went down. He quickly got to his feet and returned to the defensive end where, when Winslow tried a jumper, Embiid blocked the shot. He returned to the offensive end and promptly hit a three-pointer which took the life out of the Heat. It showed that the Sixers wouldn’t back down to the cheap shots and taunting from the Heat and would respond in kind, especially since the team was making so many three-pointers and that kills the spirit of the opposition. It’s going to continue to be a physical series, but Miami has to realize that the more they try to rattle the Sixers, the more the Sixers are going to come back at them. They’re also seeing that they can’t keep fouling as Simmons finished 7-8 from the line and Embiid 10-15, which got better as he got more in to the rhythm of the game.
From my perspective, this series is over. It could have gone bad if the Sixers didn’t have a good reaction to the physical play of the Heat, but they responded well and blew the Heat out of the building in the second half. It opened the Sixers eyes that they can compete in the tough, physical playoff style of basketball and if they use their rotation to their advantage, they’ll continue to advance.
Not one person, to start the year, could have envisioned the Sixers team being a #3 seed in the Eastern Conference, let alone being a favorite to get to the Conference Finals. The fact that, now, people are starting to look at the Sixers as a legitimate threat to be in the Finals, it’s time to start looking at the payoff from “The Process”. It’s here and it doesn’t seem to be going away. The Miami Heat are learning that and the rest of the NBA has to be taking notice that this team is for real this year and they’re a real problem for anyone that has to play them.
Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports