The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope for a triumphant return from Joel Embiid in Game 3 of their conference semifinal series against the Miami Heat. Through two games, the Sixers just haven’t shown they can compete with the top-seeded Heat (who haven’t had Kyle Lowry) without their Kia MVP candidate. And with Game 3 less than 48 hours away (7 ET on Friday), it’s unclear whether Embiid — who suffered a fractured orbital bone and concussion in Game 6 of the first round — will be ready to return.
“He’s got so many steps to go,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s status. “I don’t think he’s cleaned any of them at this point. So we just have to wait and see.”
Wednesday’s Game 2 didn’t follow the same script as Game 1 (both teams were better offensively), but it was another comfortable win for the Heat. They took control on a 7-0 run to close out the third quarter and never dropped fewer than four points after that, closing the game on a 10-0 run in the fourth.
Here are some notes, numbers and video from the 119-103 win that gave the Heat a 2-0 series lead.
1. Heat gets hot
The Sixers continue to struggle offensively, but this game was more about the other end of the floor, where the Heat had their second most efficient performance of the postseason. They scored 119 points on just 95 possessions (125.3 per 100), shot 51% from the field (including 14 of 29 from 3-point range) and attempted 31 free throws.
The Heat once again took advantage of DeAndre Jordan’s lack of mobility and now have 88 points on 58 possessions (152 per 100) with Jordan on the court in this series…
They also took advantage of the Sixers’ smaller defenders. Furkan Korkmaz is the only one of the Sixers’ shooters to have shot well in this series, but that’s just 3-for-6 from 3-point range (every other Sixer is 11-for-58 for 19%). There’s a reason he hasn’t been in the rotation lately, and the Heat were able to attack him multiple times in Game 2 …
The new Kia Sixth Man of the Year has also been efficient. In the two games, Tyler Herro has 43 points on a true shooting percentage of 71.5%, the best mark among players with at least 25 field goal attempts this round. He’s easily the Heat’s best off-dribble creator (perhaps the best on any of these teams), and he was in the bag for him on Wednesday…
The Sixers had a bit of success crushing Herro in the fourth quarter, pulling off two live-ball turnovers that turned into fast-break buckets. And we could see more of that in the future. But on Wednesday, it was too little, too late.
2. Zone for me, zone for you
In Game 1, the Sixers got out of a hole early by playing in some zone and slowing down Miami’s offense. In Game 2, Philly played just one zone possession late in the first quarter. And the Heat got an open 3 spot for Herro after just one pass.
This time, it was the Heat (who also played a bit on Monday) who played the most zone. They often showed three-quarter-court pressure that transitioned back into a 2-3 zone, but also fell back in a zone after a live turnover (something you never see). And he was quite successful, holding the Sixers to just 13 points on 12 possessions.
The Sixers probably should have known it was coming on the first play of the fourth quarter, but they still stood around too long and committed a 24-second violation. Their best action against her came later in the fourth, when they were able to deflect the ball into an open corner 3 after setting up an inside screen across the pitch…
As was the case in Game 1, the Sixers looked good when they moved the ball against a defense that shrank the floor against James Harden. But they just haven’t been able to convert those open stares into enough points. The two games in this series are only the second time this season (the first time since November) that the Sixers have shot less than 30% from 3-point range in consecutive games.
3. Good defense beats good offense
While the Sixers have missed some open shots, the Heat also deserve some credit for Philadelphia’s struggles. The Sixers didn’t move the ball much more than they did in Game 1 (the Heat actually saw a big drop in ball movement), but they did have some possessions with a purpose. And sometimes, Miami’s defense was too good…
Some determined Sixers moves here, but great Heat defense and both Thybulle and Harden a little hesitant to shoot c&s 3s. pic.twitter.com/UoCUJGH3Pn
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 5, 2022
That possession featured a Sixers small-ball lineup. They were a plus-8 in 7.5 minutes with no center on the floor in Game 1, when their most used small-ball lineup was Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Georges Niang. They played a little more small-ball in Game 2 (8.0 minutes), but they had a minus 2 on Wednesday, when two of the most used small-ball lineups included Matisse Thybulle. And that aforementioned possession included Thybulle passing up a catch-and-shoot attempt from the corner.
The Heat played the league’s second-largest regular-season offense in the first round, but ranks second on defense in the playoffs, having allowed just 103.8 points per 100 possessions in their seven games.
4. Comeback story
Victor Oladipo was able to play just four games for the Heat after he was traded last year, missing the final 20 games of the regular season and the entire first-round series loss to the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. He underwent surgery on his right quadriceps last May and would miss a large portion of the 2021-22 season. But the Heat brought him back on a minimum contract and now, after playing just eight games in the regular season, Oladipo is helping them win playoff games.
Oladipo scored 23 points in Game 5 against Atlanta and (after a quiet Game 1) had 19 on Wednesday, shooting 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Five of his six buckets were assisted, and four of the six were open catch-and-shoot looks on the perimeter.
But he also rocked Tyrese Maxey in transition and beat Georges Niang in isolation to get to the free throw line…
Even if Oladipo is mostly an off-the-ball guy on offense who isn’t a burden on the other end of the floor, he can still be a valuable part of the Heat’s rotation in these playoffs. And assuming he keeps his spot in that rotation, it will take three more games for him to have played more minutes in the playoffs than he did in the regular season (173).
5. Fool me once…
On the first play of the third quarter, the Heat executed one of their favorite plays after the timeout. Jimmy Butler sent the ball to Bam Adebayo above the left elbow, Gabe Vincent cleared the right side and Max Strus put up a back screen for Butler above the right elbow. Harris battled through the screen and Harden read the play, leaving PJ Tucker in the left corner to deflect Adebayo’s pass…
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Heat ran the same play with Herro at blocker. This time, Harden was protecting Butler, and he got caught on screen, with Maxey (protecting Herro) not quick enough to change the action. The Sixers defenders on the left side of the court weren’t ready to help either and Adebayo lobbed Butler…
If a team goes 1-for-2 on the same play, it’s usually because the defense is ready for the second time. On Wednesday, the Sixers were prepared for it the first time and not the second.
Watch for that same action in Game 3 on Friday (7 ET, ESPN).
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John Schuhmann is a senior analytics analyst for NBA.com. You can email him here, find his file here, and follow him on twitter.
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