Game Recap: Heat 96, 76ers 91
The American Airlines Arena provided great NBA theater on Saturday night. The 76ers (0-14) dueled fiercely against a far more seasoned opponent, holding the lead for all but 10 minutes of a highly competitive, physical, and intense match-up. The Miami Heat (8-4), relying on the combination of an All-Star nucleus, plus an explosive rookie, saved its best for last. They closed the contest on a 20-4 run, en route a narrow 96-91 victory.
The Sixers got a big boost from two reserve guards. Isaiah Canaan drained a team-best 22 points, converting five of his 12 three-point attempts. Robert Covington offered his strongest showing in five appearances this fall, teeing off for a season-best 21 points. In particular, the second-year Sixer looked sharp from beyond the arc. knocking down three of his six three-point tries. Jahlil Okafor delivered the fourth double-double of his career, with 16 points and 11 rebounds. Nerlens Noel added 10 points and eight boards in his return to the starting line-up.
Dwyane Wade left his imprint on the game throughout the evening. He generated 17 of his game-high 27 points in the first half, never allowing his Heat to fall too far behind. Then, in the final quarter, he assisted on two critical buckets, one that made the contest a one-possession affair, and another that leveled the score at 89. Justise Winslow, picked 10th overall this past June, helped Miami seal its fifth win in six games, scoring nine of his 11 points in the fourth period. He had a key tip-in that gave the Heat a four-point cushion with 51 seconds to go.
It took Miami 55 seconds to score the first five points of the night, and, in front of an enthusiastic sell-out crowd (the 750th in franchise history), quickly establish momentum. The Sixers, after enduring uneven first quarters in their previous two contests, were in need of a spark. Nerlens Noel answered the call, using his defense to set-up what was not just one of his best plays this season, but one of the best plays of his 87-game pro career. Here’s a link to the sequence, in case you haven’t already seen it:
Brett Brown Said - On the Sixers’ 96-91 loss to the Miami Heat:
“We were in a position to get our first win, and we just couldn’t get into anything at the end of the game. I give credit to a veteran Miami team. Defensively they were fantastic. We just had a hard time finding a shot.”
The Sixers, after completing their 14th game of the season, have now played 28 halves of regulation basketball. The first half against Miami, though, might have been their best yet. Energized early by the behind-the-back dribble, two-handed slam from Nerlens Noel, and subsequent three pointers from Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington, the Sixers were clicking on offense. They also ratcheted up their defense, holding the Heat scoreless for roughly five minutes, 45 seconds in a stretch that bridged the first and second quarters. It was during that portion of the game that the Sixers relied on a 16-0 run to take control of the first half, and carry a 47-32 lead into the break.
One statistical note that stood out from the opening 24 minutes was that the Sixers surrendered their lowest first-half point total since they contained the Detroit Pistons for 31 points in the first half of a January 28th, 2012 meeting. Further underscoring the Sixers’ defensive effectiveness in the first half were Miami’s 11 turnovers, a high number for a group that went into the match-up with the third-fewest giveaways in the league.
“In the first half, we moved the ball, took their pressure, played down hill. We weren’t stood up,” said Brett Brown.
As for what changed in the second half, and, in particular, the fourth quarter?
“Miami did a really good job, especially the last 6 minutes, getting into us, pushing us two to three feet further out. We just couldn’t get anything cheap. We didn’t get any clean looks. It just didn’t allow us to find baskets. ”
The Heat outscored the Sixers 29-17 in the final frame. They Sixers managed to hit six of their last 19 field goal attempts, and were one of 12 from beyond the arc to close the night. Miami, meanwhile, went 16-23 from the free throw line in the fourth, while the Sixers were 4-4 from the stripe in the quarter.
Miami’s prolific shot-blocking ability created problems for the Sixers. Budding center Hassan Whiteside, in his fourth season out of Marshall, finished with eight of the Heat’s season-high 14 stuffs. He became just the fourth player in NBA history to begin a campaign with 58 blocks in 12 games. The others to have done so are Hakeem Olajuwon (59 blocks, 1992-93), David Robinson (58 blocks, 1991-92), and Andrei Kirilenko (58 blocks, 2004-05). Whiteside nearly pulled off his second points-rebounds-blocks triple-double, manufacturing 13 points and nine rebounds as well.
“You have to give him credit on his evolution and his route to where he is right now,” Brett Brown said about Whiteside. “You have to give the Miami Heat credit for unearthing him, and giving him an opportunity.”
Chris Bosh also contributed with three swats of his own.
Before tip-off, Jahlil Okafor said he was looking forward to facing Justice Winslow, his long-time friend and former Duke teammate.
“We’re like brothers, I don’t think blood can make us any closer,” said Okafor. “We’ve been playing each other since we were in third grade.”
The two 19-year olds first connected while playing AAU basketball, and later reunited while representing the United States in international competition. This past spring, Okafor and Winslow ranked first and third in scoring, respectively, on the Blue Devils’ national championship team.
“He’s a selfless guy,” said Winslow when asked about Okafor. “He really takes pride in building close relationships, and people he trusts. Just somebody I can always depend on, have my back, be there for me, off the court, on the court.”
Winslow added that he and Okafor communicate several times on a weekly basis, and planned to catch-up more after Saturday’s game.
Few junctures of the NBA travel circuit could present a climate contrast as drastic as the one the Sixers are about to encounter. Leaving the southern Atlantic coast line behind for the northern corridor of the Mississippi River, the Sixers will experience an estimated 50-degree drop in temperature when they arrive in Minneapolis for Monday’s 8:00 PM EST meeting with the Minnesota Timberwolves (5-8). In light of starting the season under adverse, sobering circumstances, Minnesota, which lost head coach Flip Saunders to cancer three days before its opener, still put together an impressive start. The Wolves registered four victories in their first six games, knocking off the Chicago Bulls and Atlanta Hawks in the process. Since then, Minnesota has cooled, dropping all but one of their past seven appearances. Despite the team’s ups and downs, Karl-Anthony Towns has been terrific, averaging 16.0 points, 10.4 rebounds, and 2.4 blocked shots in 29.5 minutes per game. The top selection in this June’s NBA Draft, the Kentucky product has tallied a pair of 20-point games, and eight double-doubles. Reigning Rookie of the Year Andrew Wiggins has picked up his production, generating 22.4 points per 36 minutes, 5.6 points per 36 minutes more than his rate from last season. Thirty-nine year old Kevin Garnett has started all 11 games he’s played, and is posting 2.5 points and 4.9 rebounds per contest.