This was a feel-out game for 76ers coach Brett Brown.
For him, Saturday night’s Game 1 against the Miami Heat was a borderline formality in the opening-round Eastern Conference playoff series.
“The intricacies of adjustments, matchups and nuances to play those type of things become more granular as the series unfolds,” Brown said.
But after the feeling-out game, the Heat are the ones who will have to make the most adjustments. They didn’t appear to have any answers for the Sixers’ balanced attack, three-point shooting and improved bench in a 130-103 decision at the Wells Fargo Center. The 130 points are the most Philly scored in a playoff game since April 27, 1986, against the Washington Bullets.
“I feel this group has something special in it,” said Brown, whose squad won 17 straight games.
Ben Simmons came one rebound shy of recording a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. His backcourt mate, JJ Redick, had a game-high 28 points while making 4 of 6 three-pointers, noting that he got “goose bumps” from the sellout crowd of 20,617.
But Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova were perhaps the biggest difference-makers in the outcome. They had a bigger impact than in the teams’ last meeting on March 8 in Miami.
That game was Belinelli’s 10th with the Sixers and lyasova’s fifth. At that time, the two reserve free-agent acquisitions were still adjusting to their new roles. But since that game, the duo have formed arguably the NBA best bench tandem.
They showed the Heat why Saturday night.
“The inclusion of those two has changed our world,” Brown said. “Those two had significant games.”
Belinelli had 25 points, with 18 coming through the first three quarters. The shooting guard made 4 of 7 three-pointers for the game. Meanwhile, Ilyasova scored all 17 of his points and 14 rebounds in the first three quarters. The power forward also made 3 of 4 three-pointers.
“We had a solid bench, good bench before they came,” Dario Saric said. “The front office make unbelievable move to bring Marco and Ersan.”
The Sixers now play with more space, as both sharpshooters are playing at a high level.
“Marco is unbelievable. Ersan is unbelievable,” Saric said. “We really needed something like them for the bench. But that guys from before were good, too.”
Brown opted to start Ilyasova at center in place of Amir Johnson at the start of the third quarter. That tactic worked as Ilyasova was a matchup problem for the Heat, scoring 10 points on 4-for-4 shooting (2 of 2 three-pointers) in the quarter.
“If we see if [Heat 7-foot, 265-pound center] Hassan Whiteside is still in a game, we want to use it as an advantage kind of spread the floor, execute and be more productive offensively,” Ilyasova said.
Saric made 4 of 6 three-pointers to finish with 20 points. In all, the Sixers shot 64.3 percent (18 of 28) on three-pointers. They went 11 of 15 for 73.3 percent after intermission. The Sixers also had 19 assists on 26 made baskets after intermission, holding a 74-43 scoring advantage.
Robert Covington provided solid defense with three blocks. The Sixers dominated this game without their best player, Joel Embiid. The all-star center missed his ninth game after suffering a fractured orbital bone near his left eye and concussion on March 28 against the New York Knicks.
Kelly Olynyk paced the Heat with 26 points in a reserve role.
However, the big question heading into the game was about how many of the Sixers would handle playing in their first preseason game.
They didn’t look like an inexperienced playoff squad early on.
The Sixers held a 19-12 lead after Belinelli’s cutting layup with 6 minutes, 6 seconds left in the first quarter. However, they went on to miss seven of their next eight shot attempts. That enabled the Heat to go on a 23-4 run to take a 35-23 advantage with 1:39 left in the quarter.
The Sixers responded with an 18-3 spurt to take a 41-38 lead after Saric’s layup with 8:14 left in the second quarter. The teams went on to play through three ties and one lead change before Miami took a 60-56 lead into the locker room.
The Heat scored the first three points in the third quarter before the Sixers responded with a 15-0 run to take a 71-63 lead with 6:30 left in the quarter. They extended their lead to 29 points in the fourth quarter.
Redick briefly ran into the locker room when he momentarily lost vision in his left eye when he was knocked to the ground in the first quarter.