Game Review | Playoff Feel Simulated in Hard-Fought Loss to Heat
It was a game with important post-season implications, and the match-up played out with appropriate playoff feel.
The competition was fierce and physical; defense was ratcheted up; points were at a premium; and the margin for error was minimal. Requisite urgency and hunger was on full display from both sides.
Separated by just two games entering Tuesday’s key Eastern Conference clash at American Airlines Arena, the 76ers and Miami Heat duked it out in a thriller that went down to the wire. With arguably the most iconic player in franchise history digging up an old script, Miami managed to escape with a 102-101 victory.
Dwyane Wade, now 36 years old and in his second go-round with the Heat, went off for a season-high 27 points, including 15 in Tuesday’s fourth quarter. The 12-time All-Star and three-time champion also supplied Miami with the game-winner by sinking a top of the key jumper with 5.9 seconds to go.
The Heat’s triumph not only moved them closer to the Sixers in the standings, but kept hopes alive of splitting the four-game season series between the teams They play in Florida again next week.
After Wade’s go-ahead step-back shot, the Sixers schemed up a side-out-of-bounds play that yielded an open look for JJ Redick. He pulled the trigger as time was expiring, but the 3-pointer hit the front iron.
“I’ll take JJ Redick wide open any day of the week,” Brett Brown said. “You’re not going to get a better look than what you got. It just missed short.”
“You can’t ask for a better look,” said Redick, who posted 15 points (4-14 fg, 2-8 3fg, 5-5 ft). “I don’t know if I rushed it or not. I would have like to have set my feet a little different, but other than that, you can’t ask for a better look.”
Despite battling foul trouble throughout the evening, Joel Embiid netted a team-high 23 points, to go with 8 rebounds and 4 assists. Saric emerged as a critical spark in Tuesday’s second half, en route to finishing with 21 points (7-14 fg, 3-7 3fg) and 7 boards.
Down the stretch of the fourth quarter, the Sixers did their best to stave off the determined Heat. Embiid somehow got a driving, rim-circling runner to drop that made it 100-97 with 37.0 seconds left.
Wade then converted three free throws on Miami’s ensuing possession to lock up the score, before deliberately fouling Ben Simmons. Simmons split his free throws, setting the stage for Wade’s eventual clinching shot.
“I knew he was going to take a shot,” said Simmons, who switched onto Wade during the decisive sequence. “It was a contested shot, it was a good shot.”
Simmons’ night ended with 11 points, 6 rebounds, and 6 assists. He and the Sixers ran into turnover issues, as the club committed 23 of them, which directly led to 26 Miami points.
“We lost to a good team on their home court,” said Brown. “It’s a game that we feel like going down the stretch we could’ve - and in many ways should’ve - won, but we didn’t. I like the direction we’re trending.”
Wade Rises to the Occasion
It certainly was a vintage closing effort by Dwyane Wade. Now assuming a reserve role on a young Miami squad scrapping and clawing for a playoff spot, the Heat’s old head subbed with six minutes remaining in regulation, and proceeded to explode for 15 points before all was said and done.
Wade reversed in transition, he pulled up, he drove, he hit his free throws, and - most importantly - he stepped back, connecting on the tilt’s pivotal jumper with 5.9 seconds on the clock.
Emerging as Tuesday’s hero, the 15-year vet defied the Sixers’ constantly-switching defense. Wade had himself an admirer on the opposite sideline.
“All over the place, he’s class,” Brett Brown said Tuesday. “You see the stuff he does at the All-Star break, and in the community where he immerses himself. He’s socially aware. He’s class. His boy of work is one that personally I have tremendous respect for.”
Miami’s all-time franchise leader in games played, career points, career assists, and career steals, Wade was making his sixth appearance since rejoining the Heat at the trade deadline. He began the campaign with Cleveland.
Supporting Brett Brown’s belief that the Sixers are trending in the right direction is the relative progress the team has made in respect to committing turnovers. Heading into its bout with Miami, the club had been averaging 14.4 turnovers per game in February, by far its lowest monthly mark of the season.
Tuesday, however, some old demons returned. After giving the ball up just three times in the first quarter, the Sixers surrendered seven turnovers in the second period, seven in the third, and six more in the fourth.
“We’ve [been playing] decent basketball,” said Brett Brown. “It’s the 23 turnovers you’re always looking at.”
“We’ve been taking care of the ball,” Joel Embiid said. “That’s something we have to keep doing, and tonight, that wasn’t the case.”
Even with a tough defeat fresh, JJ Redick found reason for encouragement.
Speaking to reporters inside American Airlines Arena’s visiting locker room, he told reporters, “I think we competed really hard to night. That was a playoff type game, and we were up to the task.”
Between turnovers and a few missed opportunities, a win wasn’t in the cards.
On the heels of back-to-back losses, the Sixers will try again Thursday to get back on track, in a meeting with the Cleveland Cavaliers.
“I think we just need to come ready,” said Ben Simmons. “Mentally, it was tough. We have to come ready every game.
Baskets were at a premium for both teams in Tuesday’s first quarter, but in the frame’s closing seconds, T.J. McConnell made a great find, while Robert Covington provided an impressive finish. With the alley-oop slam shown below, the Sixers closed the opening period on a 9-0 run.
Closed out the first 12 in style. pic.twitter.com/7hrdFJ8ACN
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 28, 2018
The Sixers’ three-game trip against opponents all currently in the Eastern Conference post-season picture ends Thursday with a second and final stop of the season at Cleveland.