The 76ers’ blowout victory Saturday night over the Miami Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinals might as well have been fool’s gold to Brett Brown.
During Sunday’s media availability, the coach looked like a man who hadn’t slept the night before. Brown spoke of having “complete respect” and “appropriate fear” for the Heat while preparing for Game 2 Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Gone were his trademark smile and witty quotes. He said he wanted his team to take an adult mind-set.
“We did well [Saturday] night and we move on,” said Brown, whose squad will remain without Joel Embiid on Monday. “It’s the Miami Heat. They have a culture of winning. We all understand how series change, mood swings, lineups, injuries whatever.”
Brown knows that his squad can’t afford to have another injured player, especially trying to beat Miami for the second straight game without Embiid.
Monday will mark the 10th straight game the all-star will miss since fracturing the orbital bone near his left eye and suffering a concussion against the New York Knicks on March 28. He recently cleared the NBA concussion protocol, but he has not been cleared to be a full participant at practice.
They made 18 of their 28 three-pointers (64.3 percent), setting the franchise record for made threes in a postseason game. The Sixers went 11 of 15 (73.3 percent) after intermission. They also assisted in 19 of 26 made baskets after intermission, holding a 74-43 scoring advantage.
But that partly was because Miami had no answers for the Sixers’ starting Ersan Ilyasova at center to begin the second half. He was a matchup problem as Philly was able to space the floor and neutralize Miami’s big man, Hassan Whiteside, who played just 12 minutes, 26 seconds.
Ilyasova finished with 10 points in the quarter on 4-for-4 shooting while grabbing six rebounds. The reserve collected 17 points and 14 rebounds for the game.
“I can imagine that’s who he’ll start with,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said during practice Sunday at Temple University when discussing the possibility that Brown could possibly start Ilyasova over Amir Johnson at center on Monday night.
While he wouldn’t go into detail, Brown said the pairing of Ilyasova and starting power forward Dario Saric will likely surface again.
But Ilyasova wasn’t the only Sixer to finish with a big game.
JJ Redick (28 points), reserve Marco Belinelli (25), Saric (20), and Ben Simmons (17 points, 14 assists, 9 rebounds) were the other double-digit scorers.
Meanwhile, Whiteside and Goran Dragic, Miami’s all-star point guard, struggled.
Dragic had 15 points, but made just 4 of 14 shots and had four turnovers while drawing Robert Covington as the primary defender.
“We are going to try to give a little bit more space,” Spoelstra said, “and give him some more opportunities to attack. But they are pretty committed to containing the paint. So he also has to make some plays to open guys to keep their defense honest.”
The Heat want to get Dragic aggressive at the spots where he’s comfortable. They want Whiteside to become more active.
Whiteside managed just two points on 1-for-4 shooting on Saturday. The 7-footer was supposed to be major matchup problem for the Sixers without Embiid. Instead, has was a major non-factor. He played only 4 minutes, 6 seconds after intermission — all in the third quarter.
Whiteside admitted after practice that he wasn’t aggressive enough.
“I was just trying to get a feel for the game early,” he said. “I’ve got to come out with the mind-set that we’ve played them and they’re a different team without Embiid.”
Embiid watches the Sixers’ postseason practices, which are the equivalent of shootarounds. They’re scripted sessions with players running through plays instead of high-intensity scrimmages. He does, however, participate in team shooting drills and individualized workouts.
The next step will be for Embiid to partake in the scrimmaging for low-minute guys.
To their credit, the Sixers keep him at least mentally involved in everything they do. Slowly integrating him back into the rotation as his health permits is constantly on the Sixers’ mind, said Brown.
“You know every day we plan to include him and show him and keep him moving forward,” Brown said. The coaching staff is doing that “so that when we do absorb him, it’s not something that’s too erratic. There’s some type of smooth transition.”
In Embiid, the Sixers have a big-game player who excels on the national stage. The NBA’s best post player is a strong candidate to be the defensive player of the year and make an all-NBA team.
He averaged 22.9 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.1 assists and 1.76 blocks in 63 games this season. He and Milwaukee Bucks all-star forward Giannis Antetokounmpo were the league’s only players to average 20 points, 10 rebounds and 3 assists in a minimum of 50 games played.
Reserve swingman Timothe Luwawu-Cabarrot will also miss Monday’s game with right knee patellar tendinitis.