The Sixers dropped game two on Monday night thanks, in part, to the team’s lousy shooting performance (41% in game two vs. 47% in game one). The Heat’s aggressive defense served as another major factor. The Heat did a better job of getting inside Ben Simmons’s body to limit his vision. Simmons still had eight assists, but he wasn’t as dictatorial as we’ve come to expect. Finally, it didn’t hurt that the Heat got a throwback performance from Dwyane Wade: 28 points (21 in the first half), shooting 11/16 from the field.
Now Brett Brown’s squad prepares themselves for Game 3 tonight at American Airlines Arena. Joel Embiid, as of yesterday, is doubtful, but we’re all still holding out hope. As the basketball axiom goes “the series doesn’t start until the home team loses.” The Sixers have lost home court advantage, with 3 of the maximum 5 games remaining being in Miami.
When it came to the potential opponents the Sixers could’ve drawn in the playoffs, the Miami Heat appeared to be more favorable than others. The Sixers match up very well against the Heat. The two double digit victories thus far don’t mirror Sixers/Heat matchups from the regular season. In the regular season series between the two, which was split evenly, the margin of victory averaged only 4.5 points over 4 games.
There was one thing that bugged me about this series going in though, and I think I’ve put my finger on it. Milwaukee has Giannis, but not much else. Washington has talent, but that team has been in a tailspin since February. Miami has been pretty steady and professional, and Wade returning to South Beach only amplified that.
Which is why Miami seemed dangerous to me. On paper, the Sixers have way more talent than the Heat. But I’ve said it time and time again, in every sport, at every level: experience matters. This young Sixers team is still wet behind the ears. There’s a million and one reasons that the youth is a positive trait of the roster. But it’s rare that such an inexperienced team is prepared for playoff basketball.
Miami has decent talent. They don’t have the elite talent that you would find in Golden State or Houston, or even a star talent like Milwaukee does. But Miami does have some depth. Goran Dragic is an All-Star and one time All-NBA point guard. Hassan Whiteside is a former All-NBA defender, league leader in blocks and total rebounds (even if he’s played very underwhelmingly in two games). Josh Richardson is a career 38% shooter from deep, and James Johnson is an under-rated defender (2.2 career DBPM). From part-time difference maker Dwayne Wade (when he channels ‘09 Wade) to microwavable-shot possessing Wayne Ellington to even the wise voice of Udonis Haslem (who doesn’t play, but has been there and done that), the Heat have a solid veteran presence.
Miami has won championships. They seem like forever ago, but we’re only five years removed from their last title in 2013. Teams live off their championships for years, if not decades. Look at the Lakers. They’re still trying to sell top free agents in 2018 on the idea that the Lakers won titles in the 1980s.
Many players on this Heat roster weren’t there for the championships, but coach Erik Spoelstra and Pat Riley were. Spoelstra is arguably one of the five best coaches in the NBA. He has been in the playoffs, he has won in the playoffs and he knows how to get his team ready in the playoffs.
You can credit a lot of Spo’s success to Lebron James — and that’s fair — but remember that he was 90-74 in two seasons prior to James and is 170-158 since Lebron went back to Cleveland. He’s had three playoff appearances without Lebron. Yes, Lebron’s talent, along with Wade and Bosh, made Spoelstra a champion. But he’s always been a damn good coach.
From game to game, there was worry about the adjustments Spoelstra would make, and those worries were confirmed after game two.
But challenge aside, from the aspects of both talent and experience, Miami is a great matchup for the Sixers. The Heat were never going to get swept (whether or not they had Embiid) because they have good players, strong mental acumen and elite coaching to win one, two, maybe even three games in this series. So when I say they’re a good matchup, I don’t mean easy. I mean that they’re going to give the Sixers a solid litmus test of what to expect moving forward, if the Sixers are indeed able to advance.
In some ways, it would have been nice to get a push over in the first round. But the Heat will throw every look imaginable at the Sixers defensively. They should hang around in games, and push the Sixers and Brett Brown to get creative. It’ll offer foresight into what the Sixers can expect to come their way in later rounds; again, only if they’re able to get there.
Don’t get me wrong. I still think the Sixers likely win this series, but it may take six or seven games. If that happens, the young Sixers squad will have taken another step in their maturation. Facing off against an experienced team with an innovative head coach could prove to be beneficial to the Sixers in the long run, even if the task proves to be difficult — and even if it gives us Sixers fans intense anxiety.