What we learned about the Sixers in their loss to Miami on Christmas night

Note: if you purchase something through one of our affiliate links, Schneps Media may earn a commission.
Miami Heat guard Jaime Jaquez Jr. (11) is fouled by Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) during the second half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Philadelphia 76ers have struggled without Joel Embiid on the floor this season. Those struggles continued on Christmas night against the Miami Heat as the reigning MVP sat out due to an ankle injury.

Tyrese Maxey is human

Before tipoff of the Sixers and Heat matchup on Christmas night, if someone told you that Tyrese Maxey would be scoreless in the first half and shoot 1-8 from beyond the arc for the entire game, you would probably tell them to put down the eggnog. Even a casual basketball fan would recognize that no Joel Embiid means more touches for Maxey, therefore, providing a tremendous scoring opportunity. However, things didn’t go as planned for the Sixers or Maxey.

There wasn’t anything special that Miami did to stop Maxey. Matter of fact, there have been plenty of times this season where Maxey was double-teamed, yet still scored in typical fashion. The eye test tells us that it just was not his night.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Tyrese Maxey (0) shoots as Miami Heat forward Kevin Love, guard Tyler Herro (14) and forward Caleb Martin (16) defend during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

You could tell his frustration through his body language and facial expressions. He even began deferring the ball more in the second half, knowing that his shot was not falling.

Shots that he usually makes weren’t going in. His mid-range was off. His floater was off. He didn’t make his first three-pointer until late in the fourth quarter. Even his free-throw shooting was off. For the game, he scored just 12 points in 44 minutes. The Sixers’ second-best scorer and potential first-time All-Star had one of those games you hope to forget but at least learn valuable lessons from in the film session.

It’s definitely not panic mode for Sixers fans just because in one game Tyrese Maxey showed that he was human. It’s not concerning because of how consistent he’s been. His poor performance was just not ideal considering it was the 8 o’clock game on Christmas night. 

Zone defense

Without Joel Embiid in the middle, Miami was having a field day in the first half. Whether it was Tyler Herro, Bam Adebayo, or one of the league’s top rookies, Jaime Jaquez, Jr., the Heat were scoring almost at will. The Sixers allowed Miami to shoot 51 percent through two quarters.

Then, in the third quarter, the Sixers made a run, primarily because of the defensive scheme that Nick Nurse implemented.

Philadelphia 76ers head coach Nick Nurse reacts to a call during the first half of an NBA basketball game against the Miami Heat, Monday, Dec. 25, 2023, in Miami. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

The Sixers’ ability to show a different look on defense helped them climb back in the game. Down by double digits at the half, the Sixers then switched from man to zone defense, forcing Miami to take more contested shots and commit turnovers. The 76ers caused Miami to shoot just 41 percent in the third quarter.

Whenever the Sixers play zone this season with precise positioning and swift rotations, they’ve demonstrated its effectiveness. The momentum the Sixers built because of their zone defense helped them take the lead in the second half. 

Unfortunately, it wasn’t enough to win the game.

Stepping up

Mo Bamba was called on in the absence of Joel Embiid to put up bigger minutes. The question before the game was whether he could put up matching numbers. He surely answered the call.

With Paul Reed in foul trouble early, Mo Bamba stepped in and gave the Sixers a spark. He scored near the rim or far from it. He put up a season-high in points (18) and rebounds (6).

Bamba’s performance is a reminder that he still has NBA talent despite his mediocre numbers the past few seasons.

Boston Celtics’ Derrick White (9) passes the ball away from Philadelphia 76ers’ Mo Bamba (7) and Robert Covington (33) during the first half of an NBA basketball game Friday, Dec. 1, 2023, in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Another player who exceeded expectations on Christmas night was Miami’s rookie, Jaime Jaquez, Jr. Without Jimmy Butler playing, it’s expected that Tyler Herro and Bam Adebayo generate offense. A relatively obscure rookie is someone that you would not expect to lead the team in scoring in a nationally televised game.

Miami’s rookie may not be super athletic or flashy, but he gets the job done. Against the Sixers, he was a problem in numerous ways. On the interior and exterior, Philly did not have an answer for the 18th pick in the draft from UCLA. He was active on the boards and played solid defense. His 31 points were a game-high.

Leave it up to the Miami Heat organization to pluck another diamond from the rough in the draft. They’ve been inclined to discover hidden talent in the likes of Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson, and now Jaime Jaquez, Jr.

AP Photo/Matt Slocum