PHILADELPHIA — The home team is 4-0 in the conference semifinals series between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers. The road team has shot 28-for-129 (22%) from 3-point range. And so the series is tied, with the Sixers winning Game 4 (the closest game of the series) on Sunday.
Six Sixers scored in double-figures, and they were led by James Harden, who scored 16 of his 31 points in the fourth quarter. Philly finished with 116 points on 96 possessions (121 per 100), the most efficient performance the Heat have allowed in their nine playoff games.
Here are some notes, numbers and film from the Sixers’ 116-108 victory that evened the series at two games apiece.
1. The Iso King is back
The Harden matchup against Bam Adebayo is one of the most interesting aspects of this series. Adebayo likes to switch screens and defend isolations. Harden might be the most prolific isolation player in NBA history.
Before Game 4, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said that Harden vs. Adebayo wasn’t the best situation for his team.
“That’s not the matchup we’re looking for,” Rivers said. “It’s the matchup that we’ve had too many times.”
But it worked in the Sixers’ favor on a pair of big possessions on Sunday. As Harden got going in the fourth quarter, he found himself twice isolated against Adebayo. With a little less than six minutes left and the Sixers up seven, Harden drained a step-back 3-pointer over a pretty good contest from the Heat center.
Two possessions later, with the Sixers up only five, Harden got Adebayo with a hesitation move and drove past him for a layup …
A minute later, it was still a five-point game two possessions later, when Tyrese Maxey gave the ball to Harden with four seconds on the shot clock. And Harden didn’t hesitate, draining a rare catch-and-shoot 3-point attempt to save a possession that was going nowhere.
“We were close,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “We were banging on the door. It just felt like those last five minutes, they had a handful of possessions that went all the way down to the end of the clock and made some big shots, where we were defending for 24 seconds, 23 seconds, 22 seconds and they would hit a big one.”
Adebayo wasn’t the only defender that Harden got to. His 31 points were his second most (most in a victory) in his 31 games with the Sixers, and while he was just 2-for-8 inside the arc, he shot 6-for-10 from 3-point range and 9-for-10 at the line.
Through the first three games of this series, the Sixers scored just 24 points on 38 chances (0.63 per) when Harden isolated. In Game 4, they scored 15 on 11 (1.36 per).
“They were switching everything,” Maxey said. “We didn’t really have a lot of movement or a lot of continuity. So he just hit some big one-on-one shots.”
2. Butler vs. Embiid
A guard vs. big matchup on the other end of the floor might have been more interesting than Harden vs. Adebayo.
Jimmy Butler was about the only offense the Heat had in their two games in Philadelphia. He followed his 33-point performance in Game 3 with 40 in Game 4, and some of that 40 came against friend and former teammate Joel Embiid.
Embiid had some really good defensive moments on Sunday. There were a couple of occasions where he switched onto Victor Oladipo and stayed in front of his drive …
When Markieff Morris got his first playing time of the series (see No. 4 below), Embiid absolutely smothered his attempt at a post move.
But Embiid had a harder time staying in front of Butler, who was able to beat him off the dribble on multiple occasions …
That was off a pick-and-roll attack, but there were a few possessions (when the Heat were playing small) when Embiid was Butler’s initial defender. Butler, as you might expect, relishes that matchup.
“Jo’s a hell of a player,” he said. “That’s my guy. But I’m not of scared him either. I don’t think anybody’s scared of nobody in this matchup. So I’ll attack him like I’ll attack anybody else. I like it. He takes that challenge. As the team’s best player, that’s what he’s supposed to do.”
3. Shooting struggles
Beyond Butler, the Heat didn’t have much on that end of the floor. After shooting 7-for-30 (23%) from 3-point range in Game 3, they were 7-for-35 (20%) in Game 4. It was the first time in five years that the Heat have shot worse than 25% from beyond the arc in consecutive games.
While Miami has been shooting so poorly, it has chosen to play without its best shooter. In his playoff career, Duncan Robinson has shot 40.6% from 3-point range, the fifth best mark among 65 players with at least 200 3-point attempts in the postseason. That mark includes a 9-for-10 performance in Game 1 of the first round just three weeks ago. But his only playing time in this series has been 55 seconds of garbage time in Game 2.
Spoelstra said that he did think about turning to Robinson on Sunday. But he stuck with the same wing rotation he’s been using all series and before he’s ready to make a change (in regard to personnel or scheme), he wants to review the film from Game 4.
“I just want to see what’s real and what’s not,” he said regarding his team’s shooting struggles. “I thought we still had great quality looks, and [beyond Robinson] we’re a great 3-point shooting team.”
Of course, Butler doesn’t want his team to just rely on making more shots. He wants them to be able to win ugly and not let their offense affect their ability to defend at a high level.
“When we make shots, we tend to be playing defense,” Butler said. “If we don’t, we don’t. I don’t think that can be the case in the preseason, the regular season, for sure not here in the playoffs. So we got to get back to being a defensive-minded team and let our offense come to us.”
“The bigger story was not being able to defend them, disrupt them, keep them off the free throw line in key moments,” he said. “I think our offense would have been good enough to give ourselves a real good chance, even the way we were shooting from three. But we weren’t able to get the kind of consistent defensive stops that we’re accustomed to.”
If the Heat believe that defense is where they really need to improve, Robinson may stay getting DNPs. He probably can’t be worse than Tyler Herro has been defensively, but if the Heat need ball-handling (see No. 5 below), they’ll probably stick with Herro.
4. Limited bigs
The Heat were already without back-up center Dewayne Dedmon (illness) for Game 4. Then, Adebayo picked up his fourth foul less than four minutes into the third quarter and was sitting for the rest of the period. (He played the entire fourth and didn’t commit another foul.) So Morris got 3 1/2 minutes of burn and P.J. Tucker played more than 11 minutes at the five.
5. Limping Lowry
In this space before Game 4 was the idea that Kyle Lowry (returning from a hamstring injury) could get better as the series went on, having shot 0-for-4 in his initial return on Friday.
Lowry did have six points, seven assists and two steals in Game 4. But he seemed to re-aggravate his hamstring injury and was 0-for-6 from outside the restricted area (all 3-point attempts). He was clearly struggling to move, he sat the final 9:42 of the fourth quarter, and his status for Game 5 on Tuesday (7:30 ET, TNT) is seemingly in doubt.
“I’ll put it this way,” Lowry said of his injury, “You don’t want to play with it. But … I’m trying to be out there for my guys, no matter what happens, no matter what the situation is.”
Lowry was out two weeks before returning for Game 3. But he’s still not healed and now there’s minimal time between games, with Game 5 on Tuesday, Game 6 on Thursday, and a possible Game 7 on Sunday.
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