Coup’s Takeaways: Joel Embiid Returns, 76ers Make Their Push In The Fourth To Win Game 3 As HEAT Offense Struggles
1. Game 3 if often the game. If the higher seed goes 2-0 at home, they have a chance to go up 3-0 from which no team in league history has ever come back from. The home team always has a sense of urgency, trying to keep their season alive and make a series out of it. Philadelphia got the added boost of getting Joel Embiid – playing with an orbital bone fracture and a torn thumb ligament – back and won what was, to this point at least, the most important game in the series after a commanding 31-to-14 fourth quarter to make it 2-1 despite Jimmy Butler (33 points on 22 shots, brilliant again) doing all he could to keep Miami in the game.
Just about every single thing you’re going to read about this one, including in this piece, will be about the return of Embiid. That’s for good reason, considering Embiid might win the MVP and both ends of the court were entirely different in both form and function with him available. We’ll get into it more below, but so much of what the HEAT were able to do in those first two games has been rendered irrelevant. From here on, this is a different matchup.
2. Despite getting Kyle Lowry – in foul trouble for stretches of the night – back from a hamstring injury, this was not the prettiest offensive game you’ll see from the HEAT in these playoffs (89.8 Offensive Rating). After getting just about anything they wanted in pick-and-roll during the first two games with the 76ers relying on their backup centers and small-ball lineups, Miami’s shot diet was drastically different, with mid-range jumpers coming in bunches, rim attempts and corner threes nearly nonexistent. Naturally, the main and perhaps sole reason for the switch was Joel Embiid being available and protecting the rim, but you can also credit the 76ers for generally being sharper and more aggressive on the perimeter knowing they had a safety net behind them.
The HEAT found a way, for a time. As they’ll do when struggling to put points on the board, they attacked the offensive glass for second-chance points, and with the added benefit of forcing some turnover they pulled off a 20-6 run in the third quarter after finding themselves down 14 in the opening minutes after the break. Problem was, outside of Butler, who was often simply brute-forcing his way into the paint, nobody else could get much of anything consistent going. There are some nights, like after Game 1, where it was easy to see regression to the mean right around the corner with the quality of looks on the menu. This one will require a deeper level of analysis, and Miami will have to find new ways to generate offense.
The Sixers’ offense wasn’t much better, but here are the numbers to know. Outside of that 31-point third, Miami scored 17, 17 and 14 in the other three quarters.
3. Through the first two games of the series, Miami’s defense was defined by how they were playing James Harden (still only 17 points on 11 shots tonight). Essentially any time Harden had the ball, the HEAT were pressuring him and loading up multiple bodies to either side to deter the drive. As such, his usage rate was only 25 percent in those two games – not even in the same stratosphere of the offensive burden he shouldered with Embiid off the floor during the regular season, much less how Harden played in Houston. With Embiid (18 points on 12 shots) on the court, Miami had to throw all that out the window.
Rather than focusing on building a wall for Harden, the defense had to focus on where Embiid was at all times. If the HEAT switched a screen, one player fronted Embiid while another pulled over from the weakside to help on the pass. If Embiid had the ball at the elbow, he was the one getting the extra attention. By the time Harden got the ball on some possessions, Miami’s defense was already in rotation and Harden finally had lanes to attack. The floor layout was totally different. And yet the HEAT handled it reasonably well, attacking the passing lanes and largely keeping the 76ers passing off their heels whenever possible (Harden dealing with some foul trouble helped out). Even with Philadelphia finding their shooting (16-of-33, 47 percent from three) with Danny Green (7-of-9 from three, living in the corners) leading the way, their offense never looked fully comfortable.