MIAMI — After the 76ers’ 106-102 victory in Game 4 to take a 3-1 lead in the first-round series against the Heat, Sixers coach Brett Brown said that late-game offensive execution, and Joel Embiid’s defense, won the game.
But the turning point came just before the fourth quarter started. The Sixers were trailing, 83-73, with just over a minute left in the third quarter, they had made 24 turnovers, and it looked as if the Heat were about to even the series.
“They jumped us and we didn’t handle it well,” Brown said.
The Sixers’ young core was struggling. To that point, Ben Simmons had just eight points and Embiid 10, and the two had combined for 14 turnovers. That’s when experience stepped in to save the game in the form of Ersan Ilyasova.
Having just been beaten on the other end by Justise Winslow, Simmons inbounded the ball to Ilyasova, who took the ball the length of the court and dropped it into the basket despite being fouled by Wayne Ellington and knocked into the fans sitting on the baseline. He hit the ensuing free throw to cut Miami’s lead to seven points.
After an empty Heat possession, Ilyasova grabbed an offensive rebound off an Embiid miss and was again fouled. This time he missed both free throws, but he rushed back on defense and drew a charge by Ellington.
Miami’s rhythm on offense had come to a halt.
Ilyasova then hit a three-pointer with 1.2 seconds left in the third quarter to bring the Sixers within four points heading into the final period.
“The three-point shot that Ersan hit at the end of the period, and Ersan keeping balls alive, the offensive rebounding part of the game, was significant,” Brown said.
Just as Miami leaned on the experience of Dwyane Wade in Game 2 of this series, it was the Sixers veterans who calmed the storm. Through most of the first three quarters on Saturday, the Sixers were scattered and undisciplined. In the final 12 minute,s the Sixers outscored the Heat, 27-19, to secure the victory.
“They put the right team together,” Wade said, adding that the Sixers have a plethora of weapons to turn to.
Steals, offensive rebounds, big shots from JJ Redick, and the continued diligence of Ilyasova served as confidence-builders for the Sixers in the fourth quarter.
“Huge,” Simmons said when asked how important the Sixers veterans were in getting the win.”The way they played down the stretch was huge for us. A few rebounds by both of them were big. Offensively, JJ had a big shot, Ers had a big shot, and they just did their job on the floor.”
Redick finished with a team-high 24 points and Ilyasova, who had 10 points and eight rebounds, was a game-high plus-16 by the end of the day.
It wasn’t just about what happened on the court, or the offense that Ilyasova and Redick generated. Simmons said that having guys who are experienced in playoff situations and don’t get rattled by a 10-point deficit helps the Sixers.
It may have been Embiid’s defense and a fourth-quarter flurry that won the game, but had it not been for the veterans taking it upon themselves to turn the tide, this series could be tied. Instead, the Sixers head back home to Philadelphia with a chance to close out the series on Tuesday.