The Sixers did not have much time to wait before their second-round matchup with the Miami Heat tipped off last night. It was a difficult matchup with Joel Embiid sidelined due to his concussion and orbital fracture.
It was a tenacious effort for the Sixers, but they simply did not have the talent without Joel Embiid. The Sixers kept the game tight and even carried a 51-50 lead into halftime. The Heat managed to burst the game open in the second half and ended up winning by a score of 106-92. The Heat were led in points by 25 points from Tyler Herro and 24 points from Bam Adebayo. Herro’s shooting off the bench made a major difference for Miami.
The Sixers were kept alive by Tobias Harris, who competed for all 48 minutes on both sides of the floor. Harris made some notable defensive plays and ended with a team-high 27 points. Unfortunately, the Tennessee product was unable to get the necessary help from the rest of the Sixers. Tyrese Maxey failed to assert himself offensively, and the Sixers could not find the firepower to keep with the Heat.
Center Play Was a Real Issue
Doc Rivers elected to give DeAndre Jordan the start in this matchup. The Sixers Head Coach has made it clear that he plans on playing DeAndre Jordan against bigger centers while Paul Reed will get time against smaller matchups. With Bam Adebayo identified as the matchup, Rivers stuck to his word and gave Jordan the start.
In just under 5 minutes of play, it was clear that DeAndre Jordan has no business playing playoff minutes at this stage of his career. He had 2 points and two turnovers during this time and sat for the remainder of the half. Jordan showed some positive flashes in the second half, including two blocked shots, but he simply does not cut it in extended minutes.
Paul Reed was productive, but his foul troubles showed their ugly face. Doc Rivers also gave Paul Millsap a run in the second half when in search of a spark. Bball Paul was the most effective center option, but the three first-half fouls were enough to pull him out of the game. He played just 13 minutes and did not end up fouling out of the game.
The bottom line is that none of these options are playable as playoff center options. It is also quite clear based on Doc Rivers’ postgame comments that the starting job will remain with DeAndre Jordan.
Even with the Heat clearly holding the advantage in talent, this was still a winnable game for the Sixers. Unfortunately, the Sixers were unable to get hot from beyond the arc in the matchup.
In total, the Sixers shot 6-34 (17.6%) on three-point attempts in the matchup. Georges Niang (0-7) was painfully cold and the bench combined for a 1-12 on three-point attempts. Harden and Maxey were also a combined 3-13 from behind the arc and scored just 35 combined points in the matchup.
The Heat did not shoot much better as they were 9-36 (25%) on their three-point attempts. Regardless, the Sixers needed an offensive boost from beyond the arc and were unable to find it in this matchup.
James Harden Concerns
There was a large amount of pressure on James Harden without Joel Embiid in the lineup. This matchup was his first real chance to serve as the alpha in the offense, and he was unable to perform. Harden ended the matchup with 16 points, nine rebounds, and five assists. He also shot just 5-13 from the field and 2-7 from beyond the arc.
The Sixers guard failed to establish himself as the offensive threat it has been hoped he could be. The fears that Harden simply is not the high-level scorer he once was seem to be more and more legitimate. The Miami Heat is a much more favorable matchup for Harden, but he still was unable to capitalize and create for himself. His ineffectiveness as a scorer or passer was seen in the matchup, and he scored just 4 points in the second half.
In the long-term, this creates some real concern about what to do with James Harden. He is eligible for a 4-year $260 million contract extension but has not played like a player who has earned this money. James Harden is still a very useful player in the Sixers lineup but has not been the top 15 NBA player the Sixers held out so long for.
In the short term, the Sixers must find a way to bounce back in the series. The looming return of Joel Embiid should be enough to give the Sixers hope, and winning one in Miami would give the team a great chance in the series. There are plenty of adjustments to make in this matchup, but the Sixers must wipe the slate clean and prepare for Game 2. They will face the Heat again on Wednesday in Miami and must focus on evening the series score.