Coup’s Takeaways: P.J. Tucker Brings The Energy, Tyler Herro Brings The Scoring As HEAT Take Game 1 With Second-Half Run
1. It wasn’t always pretty, at least not until a fourth-quarter run that just kept on rolling, but the HEAT took Game 1, 106-92, as they attacked a Philadelphia 76ers team missing Joel Embiid on the glass and in the pick-and-roll – Bam Adebayo’s 24 points on 10 shots were welcome, but of little surprise – while keeping the ball out of James Harden’s hands and the paint simultaneously much in the same way they did to the Atlanta Hawks. Tobias Harris (27 points) and Tyrese Maxey – beating Miami’s press in ways that haven’t happened very often this season – presented thorns in the proverbial side for a time, but by the fourth it didn’t matter with the Sixers shooting 6-of-34 from three.
Tough to say how much of this one will carry over to the rest of the series if and when both teams get whole, but tonight it was the 76ers spending the evening looking for answers. One the HEAT got out of their own way after struggling offensively in the first half, the game was theirs as the team playing harder, more disciplined and completely within the identity they built up over a long regular season.
2. Herro led the way in scoring – the Sixers were leaving him wide open for, reasons – which wasn’t too much of a surprise given how much success he tends to find against drop coverage, but P.J. Tucker might have been Miami’s most important player tonight. From the opening possession, Tucker was picking up Harden full court and then denying him the ball when he passed. And when the HEAT switched, Tucker was doing exactly what he did against Trae Young, shading heavily toward Harden, helping without helping, making the path toward the paint a long road ahead.
Perhaps more important, Tucker was also a nightmare on the offensive glass, at one point creating two second chances on the same possession in the third quarter to bring some life into the game for the first time. Miami didn’t score particularly well, but they attempted 15 more shots from the field largely because of their 15 offensive boards. And with Harden hardly looking like Houston Harden as far as his usage rate, Tucker can hang his hat on both those racks.
3. While it’s important to resist the temptation not to make the injuries the focus when there is so much more happening in a game, it’s also impossible to ignore the ramifications of those absences. Without Joel Embiid, the Sixers started DeAndre Jordan, with whom they had a Defensive Rating of 117 during the regular season. Jordan, who at one point gave up a lob to Bam Adebayo despite playing 15 feet off a pick-and-roll in drop coverage, finished -22. Doc Rivers also tried Paul Millsap, who had trouble staying in front of the ball, and Paul Reed, who looked solid but couldn’t stay out of foul trouble. The best traction came when they went small with Tobias Harris and Georges Niang as the Sixers jammed Miami up with some zone, but that’s where Miami started hitting the offensive glass. Philadelphia is clearly not a team set up with a lot of options in the absence of their best player.
On Miami’s side, the lack of Kyle Lowry was clearly affecting the offense, especially with 10 turnovers in the first half. The HEAT won’t always shoot this poorly, 9-of-36 overall with a halfcourt points-per-play of 86.4, which brought down their offensive efficiency, and eventually the attack coalesced into something more solid, but they may have put together earlier and not given up a big run in the second quarter had they had their veteran guard. In the end, the HEAT, as they have all season, figured out a way to succeed without a core player as they committed just one turnover in the second half during the competitive portion of the evening. Philadelphia, missing on the five best players in the league, could not.