The Sixers fell to a second consecutive painful close loss Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Down two points on the final possession of the game, Joel Embiid (27 points, 12 rebounds) kicked the ball out to James Harden (20 points, 12 assists) from behind the three-point arc. Harden’s open game-winning attempt was just long and the Heat escaped with a 101-99 win.
Jimmy Butler led Miami with 23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.
Dewayne Dedmon was out with left hip soreness against his former team. Miami’s Kyle Lowry sat out his ninth straight game with a left knee injury.
The 39-21 Sixers will play the Heat again Wednesday night in the first game of a five-game road trip. Here are observations of another very narrow defeat:
Déjà vu early on the boards
The Sixers’ chances of a fourth-quarter comeback in Game 6 of last year’s second-round playoff series against the Heat were slim. Still, the team being beaten hard to several offensive boards is a lasting memory from the Sixers’ last game in 2021-22.
The effort was much lower on Monday, but the team’s return performance in the first quarter was correspondingly poor. Miami grabbed the game’s first nine offensive rebounds, including three by Butler. After a Butler put-back layup and a Tyler Herro dunk set up by a vintage, long-range Kevin Love outlet pass, Miami held the lead 17-13.
Maybe the Heat got a lucky bounce or two, but the Sixers lacked urgency and physicality against an opponent that isn’t an offensive rebounder. Although the Heat entered the game ranked 19th in the NBA in offensive rebounding, per Cleaning the Glass, they were consistently quicker than the Sixers to react to bounces. It’s generally okay for the Sixers to not do anything risky when it comes to crashing the offensive glass so they don’t compromise their transition defense. However, there is no good reason why a team should take eight offensive rebounds against them in 12 minutes, as Miami did on Monday.
In addition to all the extra possessions, the Heat benefited from a relatively hot three-point shooting start. Butler, who had attempted a single three-pointer in his last three games, made an early attempt. So did Love, who then scored against Georges Niang on Miami’s next possession. Ironically, Niang was called for his second foul late in the first quarter on an aggressive box-out.
Sixers turnover in first half fuel Heat
The Sixers fell far behind in the old-fashioned “possession game” because of their sloppiness with the ball.
They turned it over 11 times in the first half, and Miami held a 14-0 halftime advantage in points off turnovers. After Harden lost the ball while trying to navigate through a crowd on the rim, Caleb Martin went the other way for a dunk that put the Heat up 50-40.
Tyrese Maxey committed one of those gifts when he was called for carrying late in a pointless possession. Maxey’s one basket in the first half was an off-balance, desperation three with the shot clock expiring. The Sixers briefly asked him to lead an all-bench lineup late in the first quarter, which didn’t go well.
Paul Reed and PJ Tucker again split the Sixers’ backup center minutes in the first half. Tucker had a nice stretch late in the second quarter when he pulled down a defensive rebound and drained a corner three on the Sixers’ ensuing possession to cut the deficit to 50-48.
The Sixers then allowed Butler and the Heat to regain momentum, largely through fundamental lapses. Veteran big man Cody Zeller hit everyone down the court for a layup right after Tucker’s three. After an Embiid turnover on a one-handed layup to Harden, Butler ran in for a dunk. He hit a turnaround jumper over Tucker on Miami’s final possession of the first half, and the Heat went into halftime with an eight-point lead. It felt worse for the Sixers given how often they had hurt themselves and how pronounced a possession advantage Miami had.
Butler and Miami can do it
Embiid fouled out about midway through the third quarter after Butler picked up the fourth foul on the Sixers’ All-Star big man.
The team’s deficit didn’t expand with Embiid thanks almost entirely to Maxey, who scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting in 28 minutes. He zoomed in for two fast-break layups, hit a pair of threes and played with the freedom and aggression that Embiid (and all Sixers) like to see.
De’Anthony Melton continued to start, posting six points on 2-for-8 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks.
The Sixers predictably struggled to stop the Heat once Embiid left. Their zone defense didn’t bother Miami and Bam Adebayo, on a night where he shot just 4 for 14 from the floor, made two jumpers over Reed.
Although down 11 points on two Max Stru foul shots with 7:10 left, the Sixers made a spirited, high-tempo comeback with both Maxey and Melton on the court. Maxey knocked down another three and Melton’s and-one layup trimmed the Heat’s lead to 95-93.
Tobias Harris appeared to injure his left leg in the backfield on that play and went back to the locker room, but he returned just over two minutes later. Harris apparently avoiding serious injury was clearly good to see for the Sixers, though he did check in because Butler was able to draw the sixth foul on Maxey. In his 35 minutes, Harris had just two points (1 for 4 from the floor) and five rebounds.
The Sixers eventually pulled ahead by a point after an Embiid mid-range jumper and two Harden free throws. Both offenses were scrappy down the stretch, but Butler made an incredible play driving through traffic and converting an extremely tough reverse layup. He was also fouled on a jumper by Harden and split two free throws before the Sixers’ failed final possession.
Just like last postseason against the Sixers, Butler ultimately did enough to carry the Heat to victory.