Here are my key takeaways and “best” and “worst” awards from the 76ers’ 104-102 home win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night.
— What a difference it makes when more than one guy on the team can move off the ball, handle the ball reliably, and shoot from deep. There’s no reason to expect Marco Belinelli to have games like he did against the Heat nightly, but having him in the arsenal is so incredibly valuable. He couldn’t have had a better debut for the Sixers — 11 fourth-quarter points, 17 points overall, and all of it off the bench.
— Speaking of the Sixers bench, Belinelli, Richaun Holmes, Trevor Booker, and T.J. McConnell combined for 39 points against the Heat. It’s not just that they had a good night — it was the way they went about achieving it. Holmes was flying above the rim, ready to make a statement play at any moment, and Booker was battling for rebounds and putbacks as if his life depended on it. It’s difficult to stay so engaged and be that ready when minutes are never guaranteed, and these guys are really making the most of their time.
— This has to be mentioned. The officiating left a lot to be desired. First, I’ll say that there were a lot of close and tough calls, but I’ll follow that up by saying there were some really ridiculous ones. Here are two examples: Three technical fouls were called on different Sixers in the first half. The third one was against Dario Saric. He was whistled for a personal foul almost under the basket by Tony Brothers, who was on the opposite side of the court closer to half-court. There’s no way Brothers could have seen through the trees to identify a foul. I had a clear sight line to the play, and I did not see a foul. As soon as Saric said “what” emphatically, he was given the T. Later, Ben Simmons shot a 21-foot jumper that was clearly off before the shot clock was near expiring. Then, after what seemed like an hour later, Brothers signaled for a shot-clock violation. The call was overturned after the replay, but that should never have been necessary.
— I think this can be stated very plainly: The Sixers were without Joel Embiid, and they did not give up. The Sixers were down 24 points, and they did not give up. These are signs of maturity that were not really expected from this group in the first year of having expectations. The Sixers’ growth at times is shocking and impressive.
— Brett Brown said that there was swelling in Joel Embiid‘s right ankle and that he still had soreness. Choosing not to play him Wednesday is a fine decision, but it does make you wonder what the team is going to allow Embiid to do during the all-star break, when he is scheduled to participate in three events. Let’s hope there is some restraint if the big man is dealing with enough pain and swelling to keep him out of a game that has real playoff implications attached to it.
‘Best’ and ‘worst’ awards
— Best performance: Giving this one to the Sixers bench for stepping up when the Sixers were grasping at straws. Led by Belinelli, the bench showed energy and persistence that then ignited the starting unit. It’s not often that we get to praise the Sixers’ bench because so much is expected of their starting five, but the reserve unit saved the day Wednesday night.
— Worst performance: Bam Adebayo had a nice game in the Heat’s previous meeting with the Sixers, playing extended minutes off the bench because his athleticism and toughness caused problems for the Sixers. But he was less than effective this time around. He finished with just three points (all of which came on free throws), missed his three field-goal attempts and closed the night with a minus-12 rating — the lowest of the game.
— Best defensive performance: Ben Simmons’ triple-double was an impressive stat line, but it was his defense that was even more impressive and absolutely essential to the Sixers’ turning things around in the second half.
— Worst statistic: The Sixers’ first-half scoring was dismal at best, as they went into halftime with just 39 points. No one could have foreseen the turnaround that happened in the second half based on the Sixers’ performance in the first 24 minutes.
— Best statistic: The Sixers rebounding was outstanding against Miami. Without Embiid, the Sixers out-rebounded the Heat, 60-29.
— Worst of the worst: The Heat clearly had trouble rebounding the ball, but the third quarter was really bad. Miami had only five rebounds in the third.