The old saying goes that it’s a make or miss league, something that’s such an overworn cliche that The Jump has a running segment named after it. When ESPN starts using something, you know it has jumped the shark. Yet, things become cliches for a reason, and Philadelphia’s Game 2 loss to the Heat was a textbook example of the make or miss league personified.
While the Sixers dominated Miami in second chance points and on the fast break, and basically played the Heat to a draw in the turnover department, there was no overcoming the fact that they were ice cold shooting from the perimeter. Two nights after scorching the nets for 130 points on 18-28 shooting from three in Game 1, regression to the mean bit hard as Philadelphia shot just 7-36 from behind the arc, including 1-10 in the game-altering second quarter when they were outscored by Miami, 34-13.
Miami certainly deserves credit for ramping up the defensive intensity both in the half court and in often picking up Ben Simmons the full 94 feet. Still, they didn’t play much of a role in Philadelphia’s poor shooting performance. Per NBA.com, the Sixers shot just 2-9 on three-point shots classified as wide open, and 4-16 on open threes. That equates to a 6/25 mark (24.0%) when the Heat defense wasn’t factoring into the outcome of the possession at all.
During the regular season, the Sixers shot 37.5% on those same shots with at least 4 feet of space. If they do that Monday night, you’re looking at them making three more triples. In a game the Sixers had the ball down just two points with four minutes remaining, it’s difficult not to envision that changing the final outcome.
I also wanted to look at whether Miami was forcing Philadelphia to take different kinds of threes, but the Sixers went 7-31 (22.6%) on catch-and-shoot attempts, generally considered the most efficient shot you can take. Simply put, it wasn’t a case of Miami forcing the Sixers to take wild shots pulling up off-the-dribble. Philadelphia shot 37.8% on catch-and-shoot threes during the regular season, so this was another area they shot well below expectations.
On one end, you had the Sixers missing open threes, with the team’s starting wing tandem, J.J. Redick and Robert Covington, combining to make only 2 of their 16 attempts. When Miami had the ball, 36-year-old Dwyane Wade was knocking down every contested 18-footer imaginable, shots you would generally consider to be wins for the defense. It reminded me of Moneyball when Oakland would run into a starting pitcher who had a dominating performance, and suddenly people acted like the advanced analytics didn’t work in the postseason. You can crunch the numbers all you want, but sample size isn’t large enough in a game or even a series, and sometimes things just don’t swing your way.
Let’s take a look at a couple of those missed opportunities from that pivotal second quarter. Early on in the period, the Sixers are in transition, where they’re much more efficient scoring the basketball. They’re playing 5-on-4, as in classic Dwyane Wade fashion, he hasn’t even crossed half court for the first few seconds of the play. Justise Winslow has to try and guard two people at once, leaving Ersan Ilyasova with a wide open catch-and-three from the wing. If you’re been paying attention thus far, you can guess it doesn’t go in.
I hate to pick on Dario Saric, who had the best outside shooting night of any Sixer (going 3-10), but here, he has a wide open corner three. Like in Game 1, the Sixers have exploited the fact that Hassan Whiteside isn’t leaving the paint to contest an outside shot, and Dario has enough time to stand there, size up the shot, and maybe do his entire tax return ahead of Tuesday’s deadline. Unfortunately, the result is an airball.
Despite the loss in what will be regarded as a physical defensive effort from Miami, the Sixers were still capable of generating good shots. We’ve seen in this series that when those shots were falling, the Sixers dominated on their way to a 27-point victory. Even when they couldn’t buy a bucket, they scratched and clawed and almost pulled out the win in spite of themselves. So if there’s anything to take away from the Game 2 defeat, it’s that if Philadelphia has even a normal bit of variance shooting the ball, you have to like their chances going forward.