After a horrible loss in Game 5 to the Miami Heat, the Philadelphia 76ers need to make some changes if they’re going to advance and try to make a run at the NBA Title. There’s not just one change needed either; there are several keys to the Sixers righting the ship.
The 76ers Must Shoot Better, Without Question
First and foremost, the team has to consistently make shots. As a team, the 76ers shot 36.5% from the floor and a horrible 28.1% from beyond the three-point line. They’re not going to win any games if that type of shooting continues. Tobias Harris, who’s been extraordinary in the playoffs, shot just 5-14 from the field. James Harden finished the game 5-13, and in something that you wouldn’t have expected to see at any time over the last few weeks, star guard Tyrese Maxey finished the game just 2-10 from the field. All three are unacceptable to a team trying to win a title.
While ball movement and quality shot attempts seemed to be flowing in Games 3 and 4, they all but disappeared in Game 5. Whatever the plan was, what Doc Rivers came up with wasn’t working. The Heat, employing a well-played zone defense, eliminated all of the 76ers’ attempts at any quality shots. The team is going to have to break that zone, move the ball more efficiently and create quality looks for their shooters. If they don’t, Game 6 will be over rather quickly.
Embiid Must Dominate
MVP Runner-up and the NBA’s leading scorer in the regular season, Joel Embiid, has to come ready to play. At this point in the season, everyone is tired, everyone is hurting, and everyone needs to step up. None more so than the Philadelphia 76ers star. Embiid shot 7-12 from the floor in Game 5 and finished with 17 points. That’s well below the 30.6 he averaged in the regular season and the 24 that he’s averaged in the playoffs.
Whether Embiid was upset about losing out on the MVP or is just in a lot of pain, he needs to find a way to summon his strength and impose his will on the Heat. He’s easily the biggest and most dominant player in the NBA; he needs to show it in Game 6 and going forward for the 76ers to have a real shot at advancing past the Heat and toward the NBA Finals.
With an injured thumb, concussion, and broken orbital bone, no one will give Embiid a hard time about playing through those injuries. Add to that a back injury sustained in Game 5 and having the ball smashed into his already broken face as well, and Embiid just being on the court is nothing short of a miracle. What the 76ers’ big man needs to do when he plays is to try his best to block out the pain and start inflicting it on the Miami Heat, who have no answer for him when he’s pushing the ball down in the low post.
Get to the Free-throw Line
The 76ers shot just 15 free throws during Game 5, and that is something that hurts their team as Joel Embiid and James Harden combined to shoot 5-6 from the charity stripe. Far below their 20 per game combined average. While the officiating throughout the NBA playoffs has been dismal, at best, the Sixers need to find a way to get to the line.
Harden, Maxey, and Embiid are all very good free throw shooters, and it’s up to them to drive, draw fouls, and use those free throws to the team’s advantage. Something is wrong when Shake Milton, in 20 minutes, has more free throws than Harden, Embiid, or Tobias Harris. If the 76ers aren’t getting calls, then they need to continue to push the ball down low and take advantage of their size, with Embiid and Harris on the floor or the speed of guard Tyrese Maxey.
Be Aggressive on Defense
The Miami Heat shot 53.6% from the floor and 39.4% from the three-point line in Game 5. While the Heat was the best three-point shooting in the league this season, the 76ers can’t allow them to just have open shots throughout the game. Applying pressure can stop a lot of what happened in Game 5, although the Heat only missed maybe three shots in the whole fourth quarter. They won’t continue to shoot like that, but their three-point shooting can’t be overlooked.
Philadelphia, while not the best defensive team, are a quality team when they play aggressive defense. They can inhibit the ball movement and open shots that Miami was having an easy time with throughout Game 5. Guard Tyrese Maxey is going to have to use all of his energy and speed to step up, Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle will need to have much better games, and Joel Embiid will have to lead the way. As Embiid goes, so does this team. With a few good defensive possessions to start the game from Embiid, the team should feed off of that and be able to limit the Heat as they did in Games 3 and 4.
If You Put on the Mask, You Must Destroy Gotham
Embiid has made his references to Bane in The Dark Knight Rises when talking about the mask he currently wears. Well, putting on the mask is one thing. Destroy all that’s in front of you is another. Embiid needs to come out, show why he was the true MVP of the league this season, and destroy all of the hopes and dreams of the Miami Heat.
Each game from now on is an elimination game. It’s up to Embiid to lead the team. His energy, passion, and aggression will be a key to the Philadelphia 76ers righting the ship going forward for a long run in the playoffs. Use the perceived slights, the hard fouls, the traps. Use everything that the Heat are throwing at him and turn it on them. Burn it all to the ground and leave nothing and no one standing. The mask is on; it’s time to destroy the league.