• Heat vs. 76ers: Complete series coverage
The home team has won all five games in the conference semifinals series between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. And the Sixers are 2-1 in the series with Joel Embiid.
So as the series returns to Philadelphia for Game 6 on Thursday (7 ET, ESPN), the Sixers should have a good chance to force a Game 7. But the Heat have, generally, been the better team. And they’re coming off the most decisive victory of the series.
Here are some notes, numbers and film to get you ready for Game 6.
1. Half-court execution is (mostly) everything
The winner of each game in the series has been the team that has scored more efficiently in its half-court offense. In Games 1, 2 and 5, that was the Heat (1.21 points per possession vs. the Sixers 0.99 over those three games). In Games 3 and 4, it was the Sixers (1.12 vs. the Heat’s 1.03), according to Second Spectrum tracking.
For Miami, the difference in their offense between the wins and losses has mostly been about perimeter shooting. They’ve shot 36.7% from 3-point range in the three wins and just 21.5% in the two losses. And the former of those two numbers is much closer to how well the Heat shot from beyond the arc in the regular season (37.9%, first) and in the first round (34.4%, 11th).
The Heat have actually shot better in the paint in the losses (69.1%) than they have in the wins (61.0%). But attempts in the paint matter too. In the three wins, the Heat have taken 49% of their shots in the paint. In the two losses, that number is just 35%, and the 3-point shooting matters less if you can get to the basket.
The difference in the Sixers’ 3-point shooting (48.5% in wins, 24.0% in losses) is even bigger. And there’s also a big difference in their free throw rate (41.5 vs. 23.0 attempts per 100 shots from the field). Part of that is Joel Embiid not playing in the first two games, but Embiid also had just three free throw attempts in Game 5 after totaling 23 in Games 3 and 4.
It’s a make-or-miss league and each team’s ability to make open jumpers will be critical in Game 6. But so will their ability to get to the basket and/or the free throw line.
2. Some new assignments
After Game 5, it was pointed out in this space that the Heat didn’t switch as many screens. But one play where Bam Adebayo did switch onto James Harden was noted …
One other thing to note about that possession is Jimmy Butler leaving Tyrese Maxey in the corner to pinch toward Harden. First of all, it was noteworthy that Butler was guarding Maxey, because he had (mostly) defended Tobias Harris through the first four games.
Secondly, it was noteworthy that Butler wasn’t afraid to roam off Maxey. The third-year guard was wide-open, one pass away in the corner, and Harden didn’t give him the ball. (Maxey is wildly 0-for-6 from the right corner in the playoffs after shooting 23-for-40 — 58% –from the right corner in the regular season.)
Two possessions later, Harden got a switch onto Gabe Vincent and Butler again left Maxey to poach the ball …
It’s not like Maxey can’t punish a defense that leaves him alone off the ball. Including regular season and playoffs, he’s shot 93-for-201 (46.3%) on catch-and-shoot 3-pointers this season. And he can certainly attack a close-out.
But Harden will need to be more ready and willing to get off the ball if he sees Butler leaning his way. And the Sixers could also put the ball in Maxey’s hands a little more to keep Butler from roaming. Maxey’s 62 touches in Game 5 were his fewest in the Sixers’ 11 playoff games.
3. Still zoning
According to Second Spectrum, the Heat have played more possessions of zone (61) than the Sixers (57) in this series. Miami also opened Game 5 by playing zone on Philly’s first possession (even though it was after a live-ball rebound on the other end of the floor). The Sixers have actually scored more efficiently against the Heat’s zone with each ensuing game, from six points on seven possessions (0.86 per) in Game 1 to 11 points on only four possessions (2.75 per) in Game 5.
But Philly has played almost as many possessions of zone in the playoffs (103) as they did in the regular season (130). So the zoning on that end of the floor has been a little more of a surprise.
The Heat’s zone offense has been hit or miss. They got one wide-open corner 3-pointer for P.J. Tucker off a nice cut behind the zone from Max Strus in the first quarter, but then struggled until Tyler Herro got them a couple of buckets against the zone late in the third.
The first came via an outside screen from Dewayne Dedmon …
Herro has had his issues on defense (and it was noted after Game 5 that the Sixers didn’t attack him at all on Tuesday), but with his ability to shoot and attack seams, he may be the Heat’s best weapon against the zone. We’ll see if the Sixers keep playing it.
4. A transition turnaround
Though half-court offense has been the biggest story of the series, transition opportunities still matter. When the Heat are in their half-court offense, they have to deal with Embiid hanging in the paint. And when the Sixers are in the half-court, they have to deal with switches that flatten them out and and take time off the clock. Any opportunities to get early offense and easy buckets, then, should be cherished.
Though they’ve committed more live-ball turnovers than the Heat, the Sixers have had more transition opportunities in the series. They’ve been the better team late in the clock, but they’ve also been the team more often looking to push the ball when it can. According to Second Spectrum tracking, Philly scored 1.38 points per transition possession through the first four games.
But the Sixers came up empty in Game 5, scoring just eight points on 15 transition possessions (0.53 per), their worst mark this season for any game in which they’ve had at least 10 transition opportunities.
One first-quarter sequence was particularly painful. After Strus lost the ball, the Sixers had a two-on-one fast break. But the spacing/timing wasn’t great and Adebayo hustled back to scare Maxey off an immediate layup. Maxey then missed a contested drive and Strus was quickly going the other way. Neither Harris nor Danny Green stopped the ball and Strus had himself a layup …
That two-on-one could have given the Sixers the lead. Instead, Strus’ layup was the start of a 10-0 run for the Heat. Miami certainly wins the game without that sequence, but Adebayo’s hustle back into the play and the Sixers’ inability to stop the ball was representative of the focus that the two teams played with on Tuesday.
The Sixers were a plus-26 in transition through the first three games. But transition points in Games 4 and 5 were 21-18 and 24-8 in favor of Miami. If the Heat can win the transition game again in Game 6, they’ll obviously have a better chance of ending the series.
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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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