2022 Playoffs: East Semifinal | Heat (1) vs. 76ers (4)

3 numbers to know for Game 5 of Heat-Sixers

Jimmy Butler inside, Joel Embiid's post-ups and late-clock execution loom large ahead of Game 5.

What will matter most in Game 5 of the Heat-Sixers series?

The conference semifinal series between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers is now down to three games. The Heat won Games 1 and 2 comfortably, but Joel Embiid came back for Game 3 and Philly has made things very interesting since.

It’s been a make-or-miss series. The Sixers shot 21.9% from 3-point range in Games 1 and 2, while the Heat shot 21.5% from beyond the arc in Games 3 and 4.

But there are other numbers of note as the series heads back to Miami for a pivotal Game 5 on Tuesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT). Here are three …

1. Late-clock execution

The stat: In Game 4 on Sunday, the Sixers shot 13-for-17 (including 6-for-8 from 3-point range) in the last six seconds of the shot clock.

Early offense is generally good offense. This season, league-wide effective field goal percentage was 61% in the first six seconds of the shot clock, 54% in the middle 12 seconds, and just 44% in the last six seconds.

No team forced its opponents to play late in the clock more than the Heat, with 17.5% of their opponents’ shots coming in the last six seconds (the league average was 15.5%). And in this series, the Sixers have taken almost 26% of their shots in the last six seconds.

That should be a good thing for Miami. But in Game 4 on Sunday, there were a lot of possessions where the Sixers had nothing going, but were able to come up with something as the shot clock expired. James Harden had five of those 13 buckets, including four of the six 3s. But Joel Embiid also banked in a 3 and Matisse Thybulle made his only 3-pointer of the series in the last six seconds.

The Heat, meanwhile, shot 11-for-35 (including 0-for-14 from 3-point range) in the last 12 seconds of the shot clock on Sunday. For the series, their shooting-by-shot-clock numbers are, basically, what you’d expect: highest early in the clock and worsening as time runs down.

Conf. semis shooting by time on the shot clock

Miami Philadelphia MIA
Shot clock eFG% %FGA eFG% %FGA Pt. Diff.
19-24 72.1% 10% 60.4% 16% -9
13-18 52.8% 39% 52.4% 29% +47
7-12 45.5% 34% 60.0% 29% -2
0-6 35.7% 17% 50.0% 26% -35

eFG% = (FGM + (0.5 * 3PM)) / FGA
%FGA = Percentage of total FGA
MIA Pt. Diff. = Heat point differential (on field goals only)

But the Heat probably aren’t getting as much early offense as they’d like. Both in the regular season and in their first round series against Atlanta, they got 13% of their shots in the first six seconds of the clock. In this series, just 10%.

The Sixers were able to get more early offense than the Heat in the first three games. Their early-clock attempts were lowest (6-for-8) in Game 4, but that’s when they shot ridiculously well late in the clock.

After 4 games in the Miami vs. Philadelphia series, finding the squad with a clear edge going forward is hardly easy.

They weren’t so good late in the clock in Miami, shooting 10-for-36 (28%), including 2-for-16 from 3-point range, in the last six seconds of the shot clock in Games 1 and 2. They don’t need to be as good as they were in Game 4, but if the Heat continue to make them take a quarter of their shots late in the last six seconds, that late clock will continue to be critical.

2. Jimmy Butler inside and out

The stat: Jimmy Butler has shot 26-for-36 (72%) in the paint, but has an effective field goal percentage of just 39.2% on shots from outside the paint.

Butler had a rough Game 1, scoring 15 points on 5-for-16 shooting. But since then, he’s scored more points with each ensuing game. And most of the damage has been done in the paint or at the free throw line.

Like the Sixers’ shooting late in the shot clock, that shooting in the paint might be a little unsustainable. The 18-for-27 (67%) he’s shot in the restricted area is right at his mark in the regular season, but Butler is also 8-for-9 on paint shots outside the restricted area (where he shot 44% in the regular season).

Whether or not he can keep that up, the Sixers could obviously slow down Butler by keeping him out of the paint. Among 217 players with at least 200 field goal attempts from outside the paint in the regular season, only Jalen Suggs (32.9%) and Anthony Davis (34.5%) had a lower effective field goal percentage on those shots than Butler (36.9%).

Miami and Philadelphia have traded hot and cold spells from distance through the first 4 games.

But keeping Butler out of the paint might not be a big priority for Philly. As Couper Moorhead of HEAT.com points out, the Sixers are defending Butler much differently than the Heat are defending Harden. While Miami is showing Harden a crowd, Philly is staying at home on the Heat’s shooters, something that’s easier to do when Joel Embiid is available and manning the paint.

With Embiid in uniform, the Sixers have been able to cut off the Heat’s attempts from the corners. In the regular season, the Heat took 31% of their 3-point attempts, the league’s highest rate, from the corners. In the first round, they took 33% of their 3s from the corners. And in the first two games of this series, 32 (50%) of their 64 3-point attempts came from the corners.

But in Games 3 and 4, only nine (14%) of the Heat’s 65 3-point attempts have been corner 3s. The two games in Philadelphia were the first time in five years that the Heat have shot worse than 25% from beyond the arc in consecutive games. But they were the same shots they were getting in Miami.

Butler wondered after Game 4 if he should be passing more. But he has to take what the defense is giving him, and the Sixers may continue allowing him to attack the paint as long as it doesn’t open things up on the perimeter.

3. Can’t get in the post

The stat: According to Second Spectrum tracking, Joel Embiid totaled just four post ups in Games 3 and 4.

Coming back from a facial fracture and a concussion, Embiid hasn’t quite been himself. And one thing that stands out is his lack of post ups.

In the regular season, Embiid averaged 9.8 post ups per game, second to Nikola Jokic’s 10.0. And in the first round against Toronto, he averaged 6.8 (also second to Jokic). But both Tobias Harris (8) and Bam Adebayo (7) had more post ups than Embiid in the two games in Philly.

The Miami defense has been a factor. When Embiid’s defender (mostly Adebayo) has switched an Embiid screen and Embiid has taken a Miami guard into the paint, that guard has fronted Embiid. That’s made it harder to get him the ball.

Embiid’s two post ups in Game 4 both came via direct entry passes, with no screens or set-up. Early in the third quarter, Butler came with a double-team, but Embiid waited him out and then drained a pull up while drawing a foul…

Joel Embiid post-up

Embiid has actually drawn fouls on all four of his post ups in the series. He had one other and-one bucket (driving around Dewayne Dedmon) in Game 3, and he’s totaled nine points on those four post ups.

Getting the MVP finalist catches near the basket is easier said than done. But if Embiid is feeling healthier on Tuesday, the Sixers may look to get him more looks in the post.

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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.

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