As the saying goes, the 76ers and Miami Heat now have a playoffs series.
That’s because the postseason cliché is that a series doesn’t begin until the road team wins a game. Miami did that Monday night, prevailing, 113-103, at the Wells Fargo Center in Game 2.
As a result, the Heat evened the series at one game apiece heading into Game 3 on Thursday night at AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami.
This marked the Sixers’ first loss since a three-point setback to the Indiana Pacers on March 13. They had strung together 17 consecutive victories before Monday.
“They were more physical,” JJ Redick said of the difference. “They didn’t change a whole lot [from Game 1], biggest difference was how they approached their defense on Ben [Simmons]. Instead of sagging off in the paint, they were pressuring him full court basically.
“Other than that just their being more physical with our bigs, we had trouble getting into plays sometimes. But we’ll adjust.”
The Sixers were once again without Joel Embiid, who missed his 10th straight game after fracturing the orbital bone near his left eye on March 28 against the New York Knicks.
This was the first time in the 10 games that the Sixers looked as if they needed their all-star. Not having his low-post presence, the team has relied heavily on the three-point shot. And the Sixers just didn’t have it Monday night.
— Keith Pompey (@PompeyOnSixers) April 17, 2018
Embiid wasn’t happy after the game. He shared his frustration over not playing on Instagram by writing “[Freaking] sick and tired of being babied.”
“He just wants to play basketball,” Brett Brown said of his post. “He wants to be with his team. He wants to play for the fans, and he wants to see this through. When he’s not able to do that, he gets frustrated.
“That’s why I respect his frustration. It’s borne out of competitiveness.”
Embiid talked to ESPN about the frustration behind his post.
“I promised the city the playoffs, and I’m not on the court and I may not be on Thursday either,” he said. “I wish more than anything that I was out there. I just want the green light.”
Until then, the Sixers continue to play up-tempo and shoot a lot of threes.
No one expected them to duplicate their 64.3 percent three-point shooting from Saturday. Nor did they expect them to struggle from the three-point line like they did in Game 2. The Sixers made just 19.4 percent (7 of 36) of their three-pointers, going 2 of 18 in the first half.
Brown said he’s not ready to abandon shooting as many three-point shots when they’re not falling.
“It’s sort of who we are lately,” the coach said. “Without Joel, I don’t know, I hope it’s smart. Like to cater to the team’s strengths. … It’s sort of a give and take.”
Brown pointed out that the Sixers made a franchise playoff-record 18 three-pointers Saturday.
“I think what it does do for me is it highlights the need … we need Joel Embiid,” Brown said.
They also had a tough time containing future Hall of Famer Dwyane Wade. He finished with a game-high 28 points to go with seven rebounds and three assists in a reserve role. Wade scored 21 first-half points on 8-for-9 shooting.
Ben Simmons paced the Sixers with 24 points, nine rebounds, and eight assists. Dario Saric had 23 points. Ersan Ilyasova had 14 points and 11 rebounds. Reserve Marco Belinelli added 16 points. JJ Redick had 11 points, but he made just 1 of 7 three-pointers. Robert Covington also struggled, scoring seven points while making 1 of 9 threes.
Ilyasova started at center over Amir Johnson. This move came after the Heat couldn’t combat the Sixers’ starting Ilyasova at center to begin the second half of Game 1.
The normal backup power forward was a matchup problem as Philly spaced the floor and neutralized Miami’s big man, Hassan Whiteside, who played just 12 minutes, 26 seconds in the opener.
This time, Miami forwards James Johnson and Josh Richardson, and reserve Kelly Olynyk mostly guarded him. Initially, it didn’t matter, as Ilyasova had some early success. He scored eight first-quarter points while making all four of his shots. The 6-foot-10, 235-pounder also grabbed five first-quarter rebounds.
Belinelli scored nine of his points in the quarter as the Sixers led, 29-22, after one. However, they went on to suffer from a severe case of the poor-shooting blues in the second quarter. The Sixers made just 4 of 21 shots in the second.
Meanwhile, Wade was heating up. He made 5 of 6 shots in the quarter, outscoring the Sixers, 15-13. Following him, Miami went on to take a 56-42 halftime lead.
The Sixers went back to their starting lineup that featured Johnson at center at the start of the second half. They also stepped up their intensity, making four of their first five shots to close the gap to seven points (58-51) after Saric’s three-pointer with 9 minutes, 38 seconds left in the third. However, the Heat responded and opened up a 16-point cushion.
Not giving up, the Sixers closed the gap to eight points (93-85) on Saric’s three-pointer with 8:59 left. After a steal, Simmons closed the gap to six points on a dunk.
Simmons closed the gap to six points again (96-90) by splitting a pair of foul shots with 6:12 left. Saric’s layup with 5:47 left made it a 96-92 game. Ilysaova scored on a put-back to make it a two-point game (98-96) with 4:34 left.
The Heat responded with a 6-0 run on a breakaway dunk by Wade, followed by a cutting dunk by James Johnson and a jumper by Goran Dragic with 2:27 left.
“I hate this feeling,” Simmons said of losing for the first time in 17 games. “But maybe a good reminder for everybody for the next to really lock in.”