The Sixers played about as well as they can possibly hope to against the Miami Heat Sunday at American Airlines Arena. They limited the Big Three of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to just 63 total points, held each of them to below 50 percent from the floor, made more field goals (35-31), more three pointers (7-4) and committed fewer turnovers (14-9) than the Heat.
Still, Miami was able to post a 97-89 victory. And as much as players and coaches want to believe that it was a good showing, which it was, it seemed that the frustration of still enduring an eight-point loss overweighed any thoughts of moral victory.
With three of their five starters (Jrue Holiday, Jodie Meeks and Spencer Hawes) playing in their first playoff game, it figured to be tough for the Sixers to get off to a good start against the host Heat in the first game of their best-of-seven first round series.
But the Sixers appeared to be shot out of a cannon at the beginning of the game. They made 11 of their first 14 shots, which helped propell them to a 33-19 lead early in the second quarter. A big reason for their early success was they got the ball to the basket, hit open shots and were able to keep Miami off the boards.
Then came the Heat explosion that coach Doug Collins had warned his team abo in the preparation days prior to the game. But when it happens, it's like trying to hold back a wave of water at the beach. There's really nothing you can do when James gets that look in his eyes, much like he did when a layup by Thaddeus Young (team-high 20 points) gave the Sixers that 14-point lead.
When James hit a driving layup with 3 minutes, 46 seconds left in the second quarter, it capped a 26-5 Heat run that left the formerly confident Sixers with a "what just happened" look on their collective faces.
That quarter mirrored what was the Sixers' problem all game - Miami getting to the foul line. The Heat went 12-for-15 from the stripe that quarter, compared to the Sixers, who hit all four of theirs.
When the game was over, Miami wound up hitting 31-of-39 from the free throw line, while the Sixers went just 12-for-15. The Heat won the second quarter by 35-18.
"I could (talk about the free throw descrepency)," said an obviously agitated Collins. "But my grandkids would lose their college fund (due to a fine). I can't respond to that. We thought we did a good job tonight, holding them to 42 percent shooting, 24 percent from the three point line and turned them over and got 16 points. We had the one stretch in the second quarter when they went to a zone (and couldn't score)."
Still, the Sixers fought back, much like they've done all season, closing the game to 88-87 with 2:30 left in the game on a layup by Young. But Miami turned up the defensive intensity and Wade (17 points) scored five of his team's final seven points to help Miami pull out the win.
Chris Bosh led the Heat with 25 points and 12 rebounds, while James added 21 points, 14 rebounds, five assists and three blocks.
Holiday scored 19 for the Sixers, while Lou Williams, back for the first time since March 12 due to a strained hamstring, scored 10 points in just under 23 minutes. Andre Iguodala scored only four points but dealt nine assists and added eight rebounds.
"They wound up getting in the bonus I think at the nine-minute mark in the second quarter," said Collins. "So what ended up happening was we had to play a half-court game in the second quarter. I think at one-point they were 8-for-12 shooting and gotten to the line so many times so now you're taking the ball out of the net. One of the things we started with very well was we were able to push the ball out and get into our early offense. When they get to the free throw line that much the game stops and then you're playing against a team in a halfcourt game and that's tough because they're very, very good."
"We were very happy with the way we played in that first quarter," said Brand. "We moved the ball, hit our shots and we defended them well. It's encouraging that none of the Big Three shot over 50 percent. We just let them get to the free throw line entirely too much throughout the game, especially that second quarter."
The positives were there, but the desired result was not. As well as the Sixers played, as happy as they were with their defensive effort on Wade, James and Bosh, it still wound up being an eight-point loss. Perhaps that's more discouraging than any positives that came out of the game.
Game Two will be Monday night at 7 p.m. Games 3 and 4 will be at the Wells Fargo Center on Thursday and Sunday.
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