What we learned from a huge Sixers win over the Miami Heat

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) breaks away from Miami Heat forward Haywood Highsmith and forward Caleb Martin during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Playing in a playoff-like atmosphere in Miami, the Sixers had their two stars on the court together for the first time in months. Against the Heat, during a game that had major postseason implications, they did not disappoint.

Attack mode

Out of the gate, Nick Nurse had the Sixers attacking the basket. The number of shots Tyrese Maxey and Joel Embiid were connecting on was impressive. Both players executed almost flawlessly in the first quarter. Maxey attacked the paint and raised up for three on a number of times to help push the Sixers to an early double-digit lead. Embiid was also effective with his bag of offensive moves, displaying his dominance in only his second game back from his meniscus tear injury.

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) celebrates as the team pulls ahead of the Miami Heat during the last minute of the second half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. The 76ers defeated the Heat 109-105. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

The offensive aggression did not stop though in the first quarter. The All-Star duo kept their foot on the gas, attacking the Heat’s double teams as often as possible. One example of this was when Embiid caught Miami defenders out of position with a superb interior pass to KJ Martin for a score under the rim. Embiid and Maxey both had over 20 points going into halftime.

Kelly Oubre, Jr. also was in attack mode, driving the lane and taking advantage of slower defenders. He ended up with the third most points on the Sixers with 18, while securing eight rebounds. With Tobias Harris out, Oubre took advantage of more touches. His aggressive moves and athleticism was surely needed against a stingy defense like Miami.

A second example of the Sixers attacking Miami’s zone was when Paul Reed received a pass near the free-throw line. He recognized scrambling defenders out of position and made his move quickly. The result was a layup that added to the Sixers’ offensive barrage in the first half. Catching defenders out of position and attacking gaps was the apparent strategy for Philly. The second half was a different story.

Potential playoff preview

Last night’s game offered a glimpse of what could be on the horizon. Most likely to meet in a later postseason round, the Sixers and Heat have dealt with injuries that impacted their respective records. It is not unthinkable to see these two squaring off in the Eastern Conference Finals, should the Celtics somehow collapse. According to Basketball Reference, Boston has a 62.8 percent chance of winning the NBA Finals. Yet, you cannot discount the Heat.

Philadelphia 76ers guard Kelly Oubre Jr. (9) dunks the ball over Miami Heat forward Jimmy Butler (22) and center Bam Adebayo (13) during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, April 4, 2024, in Miami. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier)

Just look at how last season ended. They finished seventh in the conference but ended up in the championship versus the Denver Nuggets. They have the roster and coaching to do it again, counting on experience to repeat the feat. The Sixers are a little more of a longshot, but stranger things have happened.

Although the Heat have new additions like Jaime Jacquez, Jr. and Terry Rozier, their lineups are nowhere near as new as Philly’s. The James Harden trade alone brought in a number of players that are still getting used to a new system, coach, and teammates. Add to that the mid-season transaction that brought Buddy Hield and Cam Payne to the Sixers, and Philly fans have to remind themselves that this is the same team they’ve watched the past few seasons. Rub your eyes and you see Kelly Oubre, wondering… Why isn’t PJ Tucker out there running around with zero points in 28 minutes?

The Sixers’ new look is refreshing and scary at the same time. Nick Nurse has impressed, but he does not even have a full season under his belt. Add to that Embiid missing two months of basketball with a ton of roster changes, and there are more question marks for this team than ever before. The Heat do not have this problem.

The stabilizing force that cuts through any lineup fluctuation is Erik Sploestra. Just look at last night. No matter who is new to that team, his defensive schemes are a staple and effective. The run they went on in the second half almost had them pull away if not for Maxey and Embiid. Miami’s full court pressure and zone defense caused a number of turnovers that led to 24 fast break points. How would Nick Nurse’s recently assembled squad handle Spoeltra’s coaching genius in a playoff setting.

There’s only one way to find out. Judging from the win the Sixers pulled off last night, there’s more hope going up against the Heat than the last time they faced them under Doc Rivers. The matchup is less probable than more likely, but one thing is for sure – it would be a hell of a dog fight and fun to watch.

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier