Coup’s Takeaways: James Harden Gets Hot As HEAT Stay Cold As 76ers Tie Series 2-2

by Couper Moorhead

1. Philadelphia got their best player back, the complexion of the series changed and now we’re headed back to Miami with things tied up 2-2. For the second-straight game, the Jimmy Butler kept the HEAT within striking distance, and for the second-straight game the Sixers had an answer for every run.

The good news is that tonight looked better than Game 3. The threes still didn’t fall – 7-of-35 is pretty wild, all things considered, especially as the Sixers are hitting 48 percent, again – but this time Miami got to the rim for 20 attempts, earned 28 free-throws and were generally less reliant on long jumpers after posting nearly a season high in mid-range jumpers the previous outing. And while Philadelphia ran away with things in the fourth quarter of Game 3, Miami was right there until the final two minutes despite James Harden dialing it back to MVP levels with 31 points (6-of-10 from three), stepping back into one huge shot after another. Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo (21 points on 12 shots) combined for 61, there just wasn’t enough supplemental shooting around their efforts – or defensive stops in lieu of that – to get the HEAT over the top. Miami hasn’t played poorly, they’ve just been out-shot. 

2. The only reason this game was within single digits for most of the evening was because of Butler, who posted a masterful 40 points on 20 shots after a masterful Game 3 and weeks after posting his career-high of 45 against Atlanta. He’s been nothing short of remarkable. When the Sixers went up by 10 in the second quarter, it was a personal 8-0 run from Butler – a three, a jumper and an and-one – that pulled Miami back within reach. When the Sixers again went up 10 in the third, Butler had a six-point possession all by himself, following up a flagrant-foul and-one with another three. Every time Philadelphia made a push, Butler was there to push right back, often going right at Joel Embiid. It wasn’t the greatest sign that so much was needed from Butler for so long just to keep it close, but then again sometimes that’s just the way it is on the road in the playoffs. We can’t call it a miracle that the HEAT were only down four after three quarters, with Bam Adebayo also in foul trouble, because we know who was responsible for it.

Unfortunately, things played out almost exactly as they did in Game 3. Butler kept them close through three, Philadelphia went on a run – 8-0 tonight – to begin the fourth and took that lead to the end. Through no fault of his own, Butler couldn’t do it all, especially when he was one of two players (with Bam) to shoot over 50 percent from the field and also the only player to make more than one three until the final minute of the game. Again and again, Butler has shown he has the juice, but also keep in mind that the 76ers are generally playing him in single coverage. Butler has had to be aggressive because that is the avenue available to the team for him to take.

3. The least interesting thing in the world can be to talk about three-point shooting. You can control the looks you get, but there’s always going to be a degree of variance within a single game – and a single game can move mountains in the playoffs. 

But this felt like a Two Truths sort of night. The low percentage was absolutely wild and Miami will no doubt make more shots going forward, but the process behind the threes they were getting wasn’t close to as good as it’s been when the offense has been at its best. That doesn’t mean the open looks aren’t there, but there are so many degrees to open. Are you getting a catch with nobody in front of you and space to go into your motion? Is there a hard closeout coming that makes you rush? Is the other team chasing you from behind? Was the pass pressured and did you get a clean catch? What looks open doesn’t always feel open.

The other side of this is that the 76ers, with Butler but generally with every HEAT player who attacks, aren’t often putting two on the ball now that Embiid is playing. They trust Embiid so much, either to stay in front on a switch or to brick-wall the paint, that they can stay home on shooter elsewhere and limit Miami’s passing options. That’s why there’s more space for Butler to attack, as we noted above, because the Sixers don’t want to give up good threes. Can Miami win Game 5 with exactly the same shot diet now that they’ve excised some of the weaker mid-range looks from Game 3? Surely. But the margin for error gets wider if they can work with a better process and get a step ahead of the 76ers defense, too.



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