The Miami Heat opened their conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers with an easy win on Monday. Playing without the injured Joel Embiid, the Sixers actually led by five early in the third quarter, having erased an early, 14-point deficit. But they were outscored, 48-22, over the next 17 minutes.
Bam Adebayo (24 points, 12 rebounds, four assists) and Tyler Herro (25 points, seven assists) led the way for Miami offensively, while the Sixers couldn’t overcome their poor 3-point shooting (6-for-34, 18%).
Here are some notes, numbers and film from the Heat’s 106-92 victory.
1. Is no center better than one?
Sixers coach Doc Rivers does not have an easy or obvious choice in regard to filling the hole created by Embiid’s absence. (Embiid will also miss Game 2 on Wednesday.) But Rivers’ decision to start DeAndre Jordan, who didn’t play at all in the first round, was probably not the best one. In 17:17 with Jordan on the floor, the Sixers were outscored by 22 points (71.5 per 100 possessions). They scored just 29 points on 33 offensive possessions (0.88 per), while allowing 51 points on 32 defensive possessions (1.59 per).
Jordan wasn’t really torched off the dribble. But with him in “drop” coverage, the Heat stepped into comfortable jumpers. And his lack of mobility was obvious on a couple of plays. In the first quarter, he got caught in no-man’s land, unable to recover back to Adebayo’s roll to the rim. And in the fourth, he didn’t match up in transition and didn’t bother to close out to Herro after seeing who was wide open:
The Sixers’ pre-garbage-time minutes with other “centers” weren’t great, either. Backup Paul Reed registered a minus-3 in 13:03, while Paul Millsap was a minus-2 in 5:38. Add those to Jordan’s minutes and you have a minus-27 in 35:58.
But before garbage time, the Sixers played 7:22 with none of those three on the floor, mostly playing a frontline of Tobias Harris and Georges Niang. And in that 7:22, the Sixers outscored the Heat 12-4. That’s a tiny sample size. But small sample sizes are all you get in a playoff series. And the issues with Jordan aren’t new. The Lakers and Sixers were outscored by 10.8 points per 100 possessions in his 622 minutes this season.
After the game, Rivers said that Jordan will continue to start, because the players called for it.
“We’re gonna keep starting him,” Rivers said, “whether you like it or not.”
2. Sixers turn to zone
According to Synergy tracking, the Sixers played just 137 possessions of zone (1.7 per game) in the regular season, with only seven teams playing fewer. But they played 59 possessions (most in the first round) against Toronto, and they turned to it again early on Monday.
It helped get them back in the game. After the Heat scored 18 points on their first 10 possessions (the last of those being the Sixers’ first zone possession), they scored just seven points on their next 12. According to Synergy, Miami scored just 26 points on *36 total possessions where Philly played zone.
*Note: Synergy’s “possessions” are partial possessions and end with a rebound, no matter if it’s offensive or defensive. Standard possessions continue with an offensive rebound, (so there can be multiple Synergy possessions within a standard possession) and there were some extended possessions when the Sixers were in the zone. On one (midway through the third quarter), they grabbed three offensive boards before Reed sent Adebayo to the free throw line.
The Sixers also allowed a wide-open Herro 3 when Tyrese Maxey stayed with the ball as Niang tried to bump him over to the top of the floor:
Those offensive rebounds and that Herro 3 were both part of a stretch where the Heat scored 18 points on nine possessions midway through the third quarter, turning a one-point deficit into a 10-point lead. So, while the zone looked pretty good statistically overall, it was also a part of the Miami run that, essentially, took the game out of the Sixers’ hands.
3. Targeting Tyler
Herro was clearly a significant part of the Sixers’ offensive game plan. As soon as he entered the game in both halves, the Sixers had the player he was guarding set ball screens for James Harden or Tobias Harris. Herro didn’t provide much resistance defensively, but the results were mixed, because it’s a make-or-miss league and the Sixers missed some good looks at the basket.
To avoid getting switched onto the ballhandler, Herro tried a hedge-and-recover strategy in the second half. That allowed his man (Georges Niang below) to get open:
Duncan Robinson would probably have been another Sixers target, but (after averaging just 10.7 minutes over the last four games of the first round) he got his first DNP-CD of the season, with Herro, Victor Oladipo and Caleb Martin all playing ahead of him.
Whether or not Robinson plays in this series, the Sixers will surely continue to target Herro. According to Second Spectrum tracking, they were twice as successful in Game 1 when they set a ball screen with Herro’s man (1.0 points per chance) than when they set it with Adebayo’s man (0.5).
4. Hardly Harden
With Embiid out, the Sixers obviously need more offense from Harden. They didn’t get it in Game 1, with Harden scoring just 16 points (on 5-for-13 shooting) in a little less than 35 minutes. He had as many turnovers (5) as assists (5) and had just four free throw attempts, his lowest total in seven playoff games.
Credit the Heat’s defense, of course. They showed Harden a crowd, with extra defenders hovering nearby when he came off a screen or isolated. When he had Herro isolated late in the third quarter, Martin ventured away from Danny Green. Harden made the right play by passing, but Green missed an open 3 after allowing Martin to fly by on the recovery:
The Sixers can hope to shoot better than 6-for-34 from 3-point range in Game 2. (That was their second-worst 3-point performance of the season, only better than their 7-for-41 on Mar. 5 … in Miami.) They can also hope that Harden is a little more aggressive.
5. An ATO wrinkle
There’s an after-timeout play that the Dallas Mavericks used to run a lot under Rick Carlisle, where a wing flashes to the ball along the sideline, flips it back back to the point guard, and then curls off a back screen to catch a lob at the rim.
Many other teams have run it:
Wrote last month how the Nuggets had borrowed a play from the Mavs' book: https://t.co/hP3RT8qpqa
The Rockets ran it last night. pic.twitter.com/LPFitvFVKc
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) February 5, 2021
And on Monday, the Heat ran a version where, instead of curling to the rim for a lob, Max Strus flared off the back screen to an open 3:
The Sixers weren’t the only team to miss some good looks in Game 1. Game 2 is Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET, TNT).
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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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