7:00 PM EST, TNT – Line: 76ers -2, Over/Under: 216
It’s often said that a Playoff Series never truly begins until one team wins on the other’s home floor, and if that’s the case then it’s officially on as the Philadelphia 76ers travel to South Beach to face the Miami Heat in Game Three of their First Round Series from American Airlines Arena. Riding a 17-Game Winning Streak into the Postseason, no team in the league had been hotter over the past month than the 76ers (52-30, 3rd in Eastern Conference), who had officially become the darlings of the NBA in the process, ending a 6-Year Drought in route to securing their first 50-Win Season since 2000-2001. And it’s with that said, could there have been any better return tot he Playoffs than their performance in Game One’s 130-103 Victory? After trailing by as many as Ten Points midway through the Second Quarter, Philadelphia absolutely annihilated the visiting Heat in the Second Half, outscoring them 74-43 the rest of the way, led by Rookie of the Year Front-Runner Ben Simmons (15.8 PTS, 54.5% FG, 8.1 REB, 8.2 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.9 BLK, 20.0 PER), finished just shy of a Triple-Double with Seventeen Points, Nine Rebounds, and Fourteen Assists, and J.J. Redick (17.1 PTS, 46.0% FG, 42.0% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.5 STL, 15.9 PER), who caught fire from beyond the Arc, knocking down 4-of-6 Threes (66.7%) on his way to a game-high Twenty-Eight Points. Even without the presence of All-Star Center Joel Embiid (22.9 PTS, 48.3% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 11.0 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.8 BLK, 22.9 PER), who is being held from action after suffering a Concussion and a Broken Orbital Bone Two Weeks ago, Brett Brown’s charges were impressive, with five different players scoring in Double-Figures, including three with at least Twenty Points apiece. However, that was just Game One, and as the young Sixers quickly found out in Game Two, the Playoffs are ALL about adjustments. Monday’s 113-103 Loss served as their Coming Back to Earth moment, as the Heat picked them apart, particularly in the Second Quarter in which the Home Side looked all but inept, as they were outscored 34-13. Though they managed to climb their way back into the affair on a few occasions, they would never regain the lead. At the end of the night, the 76ers shot the ball poorly, netting just 41.7% of their Attempts from the Field, including a dismal 7-of-36 from Downtown (19.4%), while dishing out Twenty-Two Assists in comparison to Fourteen Turnovers. Once again, Simmons was fantastic (24 PTS, 9 REB, 8 AST), but unlike in Game One, the rest of the Supporting Cast struggled mightily to make an impact, particularly from the perimeter; in Game One, the combined efforts of the aforementioned Redick, Dario Saric (14.6 PTS, 45.3% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.7 STL, 15.8 PER), Robert Covington (12.6 PTS, 41.3% FG, 36.9% 3FG, 5.4 REB, 2.0 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.9 BLK, 12.9 PER), and Marco Belinelli (13.6 PTS, 49.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.6 AST, 0.7 STL, 14.2 PER) drained a staggering 16-of-23 Threes (69.6%), only to connect on 7-of-34 Attempts (20.6%). And this is precisely where this team misses Embiid. In the Playoffs, the Pace typically slows down significantly, which is what happened in Game Two, limiting their options in the Half Court and quite frankly making it easier to defend on the perimeter. Even Embiid himself could see that he was needed, prompting the Cameroon Native to proclaim on Social Media that he was “@#$%ing Tired of Being Babied”. Of course, one can certainly empathize with the Big Fella, but at the same time, his injury history is exactly why Brown and by extension, the entire Organization, have been so cautious with him this season; the Poster Boy for the Trust the Process movement, Embiid missed the entirety of his first Two Seasons in the league after being selected Fourth Overall in the 2014 NBA Draft with an assortment of injuries, and was further sidelined for Fifty-One Games last year, prompting Brown and his Staff to monitor his playing time very closely, and resting him on the second leg of a Back-to-Back. Winning Ten of those aforementioned Sixteen Consecutive Games without his services has given Philadelphia the confidence that they can succeed in spite of his absence, but they need to be careful for if they happen to wait too long to bring him back, then it could be too late. The Process is over, folks, this is the Playoffs, and the time is NOW for Embiid to wreck havoc.
Meanwhile, somebody managed to turn back the hands of time, for the Heat (44-38, 6th in Eastern Conference) sure looked like a revitalized unit in Monday’s 113-103 Victory over the 76ers, a stark contrast to their embarrassing blowout loss in Game One. And how poetic was it that it would be Dwyane Wade (12.0 PTS, 40.9% FG, 22.0% 3FG, 3.4 REB, 3.1 AST, 0.9STL, 0.7 BLK, 13.1 PER), the most decorated player in Franchise History, whom they acquired for basically peanuts at the Trade Deadline, that would lead them? Seriously, folks, this was vintage Playoff Dwyane Wade from the mid-2000s, the guy that has been at the forefront of every successful Postseason Run since being drafted back in 2003. The 36-Year Old came off the Bench to score a game-high Twenty-Eight Points on 11-of-16 Shooting from the Field (68.8%), along with Seven Rebounds, Three Assists, and a steal in just over Twenty-Five Minutes of action, but as impressive as that Stat Line was for the Veteran Shooting Guard, it was his timing that was by far and away the most impressive. He accounted for Fifteen of Miami’s Thirty-Four Points in the Second Quarter, even outscoring the Sixers as a team by Two Points by himself. Then later, when the Hosts made a late run to cut the lead Four Points with just over Four Minutes left to play, Wade comfortably slipped back into the role of Closer with a number of crucial plays, scoring Five Points, grabbing an Offensive Rebound, and coming up with a late steal to crush any attempt that the Home Side may have had to retake the lead. As a team, Eric Spoelstra’s charges thrived in a slower, Half Court Game, shooting 48.8% from the Field, including 9-of-25 from beyond the Arc (36.0%), all the while proving to be the far more physical team, getting to the Charity Stripe frequently with Thirty Free-Throw Attempts, of which they made Twenty-Four (80.0%). When it was all said and done, Game Two was a very balanced performance for the Heat, who featured Six Different Players in Double-Figures, with All-Star point Guard Goran Dragic (17.3 PTS, 45.0% FG, 37.0% 3FG, 4.1 REB, 4.8 AST, 0.8 STL, 16.6 PER) adding Twenty Points, and veteran Swingman James Johnson (10.8 PTS, 50.3% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 4.9 REB, 3.8 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.8 PER) chipping in with Eighteen of his own, while Kelly Olynyk (11.5 PTS, 49.7% FG, 37.9% 3FG, 5.7 REB, 2.7 AST, 0.8 STL, 0.5 BLK, 17.8 PER) and Wayne Ellington (11.2 PTS, 40.7% FG, 39.2% 3FG, 2.9 REB, 1.0 AST, 0.7 STL, 12.5 PER) joined the Wade-led charge from the Bench, combining for another Twenty-Two Points to boot. However, as great as they looked, there are still a number of issues that they’re going to need to work out as this Series progresses, particularly if Embiid returns to action sooner rather than later. Even with the Pace considerably slower, Miami still allowed Philadelphia a significant advantage in Fast Break Points (17-6), and were for all intents and purposes bludgeoned in the Paint, getting outscored 56-32 in large part to conceding a staggering Seventeen Offensive Rebounds, which played a sizable role in the 76ers’ late rally. And we repeat, that happened WITHOUT Embiid. In some respects, Spoelstra & Co. were fortunate that their opponent settled for so many Threes, but then again, who could blame them after Game One? Either way, these guys are going to have to find a way to tighten up their Defense in the Paint, or else Monday’s Victory will look more and more like an outlier as this Series marches on.