MIAMI —The Miami Heat regained control of their conference semifinals series with the 76ers, blowing out Philadelphia in Game 5 on Tuesday to take a 3-2 series lead.
The 35-point margin of victory was the Heat’s second biggest of the season and tied for the Sixers’ second-biggest margin of defeat. Philly has won just one of the 12 quarters (the second quarter of Game 2) that have been played in Miami.
Here are some notes, numbers and film from the Heat’s 120-85 victory that put them one win from the Eastern Conference finals.
1. Heat shut Sixers down, especially inside
The Sixers’ 85 points came on 92 possessions (92.4 per 100), making it their fourth-worst offensive game of the season (93 total games). They shot 16-for-33 (48%) from 3-point range in both of their two wins in Philadelphia but have made less than 30% of their 3s in all three games in Miami. They’re now 1-11 when they’ve scored less than a point per possession and 4-18 when they’ve shot less than 30% from beyond the arc.
But the perimeter shooting was probably less of an issue than their struggles inside. The Sixers shot just 18-for-41 (44%) in the paint, their worst shooting performance in the paint in their last 27 games.
The Heat (even Tyler Herro) often did a good job of keeping the ball in front of them and preventing the driver from getting all the way to the rim:
And they did that without fouling. The Sixers’ free throw rate (15 FTA / 85 FGA) was their eighth-lowest mark of the season and — by far — their lowest in 11 playoff games. Joel Embiid and James Harden had averaged 10.3 and 7.2 free throw attempts, respectively, prior to Tuesday, but they each had just three in Game 5.
“We didn’t run anything,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of his team’s offensive issues. “We didn’t run our stuff very well. We played at a snail’s pace, [and] turned the ball over.”
2. Embiid playing through pain, not playing inside
Embiid made an impact with his return from a concussion, helping the Sixers win Games 3 and 4 in Philly. But he’s clearly not his best self, and his face clearly isn’t healed. The Kia MVP finalist was in a lot of pain when Dewayne Dedmon hit the ball into Embiid’s face after a rebound midway through the second quarter.
This came after Embiid seemed to tweak his back when trying to save a Harden turnover midway through the first. And of course, he’s also dealing with a torn ligament in his right thumb. Amazingly, he stayed in the game after the shot to the face. But Embiid didn’t play as strong or aggressively as the situation would call for.
The Heat are partially responsible for that. They simply wouldn’t allow Embiid any catches near the rim. According to Second Spectrum tracking, he had just one post-up in Game 5 (though there were a couple of other touches that could have been interpreted as such), after totaling just four in Games 3 and 4.
He was doubled on that one post-up and Harden missed an open 3-point attempt. And there were other times when the Heat basically doubled him before he could even get the ball:
Embiid was 7-for-12 from the field, but in the half-court offense (vs. both man and zone defenses), he basically had to catch the ball about 20 feet from the basket and go to work from there. Even when he wasn’t double-teamed, Bam Adebayo was able to keep him from catching the ball where he wanted to.
3. Fewer switches
It helped that Adebayo was defending Embiid more. And that was the case because he was switching less. According to Second Spectrum, Adebayo switched 52% of the ball screens where he was the screener’s defender in Games 1-4.
But in Game 5, Adebayo switched only four (20%) of the 20 ball screens where he was the screener’s defender. On Harden-Embiid pick and rolls, P.J. Tucker initially went under the screen, while Adebayo stayed with Embiid.
There were times when the Sixers were able to get the switch with a second screen:
But on one such occasion, Tucker was able to keep Embiid out of the paint.
The Sixers didn’t score on any of the four possessions where Adebayo switched a ball screen. The Miami defense was good either way.
“More importantly [than the scheme],” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said, “We were really committed to making multiple efforts. You can have a game plan and it can look great going through a walk-through or in a film session or on the chalkboard. But when you put it out to the wood, there’s going to be a bunch of things that just don’t turn out the way you thought because of that talent.”
“We’ve had to adjust some things as the series goes on, and that’s what’s required right now.”
4. Off target
The Sixers also barely targeted Herro, who was the screener’s defender on only two ball screens in his 22 minutes. He was the screener’s defender on 58 ball screens in Games 1-4, with the Sixers scoring an efficient 1.15 points per chance on those occasions.
With the Heat having struggled from 3-point range in Games 3 and 4, Duncan Robinson was in the Heat’s rotation for the first time this series. But the only screen he defended was a non-consequential one in garbage time.
We can probably expect the Sixers to be more purposeful with their screens in Game 6.
5. A good day on both ends of the floor
It hasn’t been mentioned yet, but this was also the Heat’s most efficient offensive performance of the playoffs: 120 points on 93 possessions (129.0 per 100). Butler didn’t need to score like he did in the previous two games, but he again led Miami with 23 points.
The Heat’s 3-point shooting recovered from the first time in five years that they’ve shot worse than 25% from beyond the arc in consecutive games. They were 13-for-33 (39%) from beyond the arc in Game 5.
The Heat lead the playoffs in “empty corner” pick and rolls and they had some success with it on Tuesday. Late in the second quarter, Butler and Adebayo ran an empty-corner pick and roll that Embiid and Tobias Harris switched. That kept the ball out of the paint, but a timely dive from Max Strus left P.J. Tucker open in the weak-side corner, with Harden sagging in the paint:
Tucker ranks third in the playoffs with 14 corner 3s. He’s 11-for-16 (69%) from the right corner and 3-for-12 (25%) from the left corner.
Of course, there have been 43 games this season when they’ve more 3s than they did on Tuesday (13). They also shot 32-for-51 (63%) inside the arc. As evidenced by the final margin, it was a complete performance on the both ends of the floor.
The Sixers’ season is on the line in Game 6 on Thursday (7 ET, ESPN).