Dwyane Wade has seen plenty during 16 seasons in the NBA, a career that might have concluded Tuesday night in the Wells Fargo Center with his 177th playoff game. Wade says he hasn’t decided yet whether he will return for another season, but he is very sure why the current one ended for his Miami Heat with a first-round loss to the 76ers.
“They had more than us,” Wade said late Tuesday, after the stands emptied and the celebrities got into their limos and there was nothing left but to sweep up the mess and move on.
There is a lot that can be said about the nature of the series, but sometimes it is just that simple. The Sixers had more – more players, more options, more adjustments, more styles – than Miami could handle. The next month or so will determine how many other teams will be caught short as well.
“It definitely can happen right away when you have the right group around certain individuals,” Wade said. “Ben [Simmons] is an unbelievable talent, and they have the right guys around him. Signing JJ Redick, bringing in [Marco] Belinelli, bringing in [Ersan] Ilyasova, having Joel Embiid healthy for the majority of the season … they did a great job; they built a great team. When you have great individual players, it doesn’t matter how old they are. They can do some special things.”
What was particularly impressive was the Sixers’ ability to win games in this series when they weren’t doing special things. They won the final two games against the Heat despite making just 7 of 31 and 7 of 28 of their three-point attempts, a large component of their offensive arsenal.
Against a team determined to slow the pace of play and turn the series into a physical slugfest, they matched punch for punch and still got the ball up and down the court at will. The teams averaged 103 possessions per game, the highest pace of any first-round series. They also achieved that pace without sacrificing offensive efficiency, which is quite a trick.
“At times, it wasn’t the prettiest shooting, but I think the competitive nature of this series was fun to watch,” Redick said. “We shot terribly basically for four games. Tonight, we were 7 for 28 from three in a close-out game and won by double figures.”
And the previous game, they shot worse from range, and committed 27 turnovers, and missed eight free throws, and were on the road, and still won. So, how did they do that, and can the formula of winning ugly transfer to the next series and possibly one or two after that?
They did it, as Wade so succinctly pointed out, by having more than just the one-two combination of Embiid in the paint and Simmons swooping everywhere from the perimeter. They moved the ball so well that Miami had to reach to keep up and the Sixers owned a 122-97 advantage at the foul line over the five games.
The Sixers were dominant rebounders as well, but not just with Embiid and Simmons as the usual collectors. When the team got second-chance points with offensive rebounds, for instance, it was those other moving parts that provided them. Of the 66 offensive boards in the series, Ilyasova, Dario Saric, Robert Covington and Amir Johnson had 45 of them. That’s why their shooting could stumble, but the possessions were still efficient.
The pace eventually wore down Miami every night, with the Sixers averaging 15 more points than the Heat in the second half. It wasn’t just keeping up with them that took a toll, but trying to fight for open shots against a defense that switches on all screens not involving Embiid, even with a pretty tall lineup on the court.
“It’s not every time when you play pick-and-roll that you get a Simmons on you, or you get Ilyasova, Saric. Those guys are long,” Miami’s Goran Dragic said. “If somebody underrates those guys, they are in trouble.”
We are past the point where the Sixers will take any opponent by surprise. The next team up, whether Boston or Milwaukee, will know what it is facing, and know the formula for attacking it: try to limit Simmons’ creativity and hope the outside shooters miss. At the other end, space the court, avoid being swallowed by Embiid, and make shots. And whatever you do, don’t get into a running game with these guys.
It’s standard basketball logic, very basic at its core. It is the same logic the Heat brought into the series, but they found out the Sixers simply had more than they had. The remainder of the postseason will be dedicated to seeing just how many layers there are to this very young team, and how much “more” they have than anyone could have expected so soon.