Note: Stats you see in this piece are all second half only stats. It is usually specified but just keep that in mind. All stats come from NBA.com.
The Philadelphia 76ers are into the Eastern Conference Semifinals and it did not look all that difficult. The Sixers used a handful of big second half performances to eliminate the Miami Heat in five games, closing it out with a 104-91 victory on Tuesday night.
There are a lot of numbers to get into, both advanced and traditional, to summarize what the Sixers did in the opening round. It is simple enough to start with saying Brett Brown’s team outscored the Heat by a total of 78 points in the second halves of the five games. The team lost just one quarter in the second half, which was the final one of the series and it was only by a single point.
The 76ers averaged 61.6 points per second half in the series, which currently ranks first among playoff teams. Their plus-15.6 second half margin also ranks first in the league. For us analytics lovers, Philadelphia had a plus-28.2 Net Rating during the second halves against the Heat. There are only four other teams that have their second half Net Rating in double figures and the Sixers’ is 11.2 higher than the next best team.
Those kind of numbers are certainly unexpected for anyone who watched the team during the regular season. The 76ers ranked 15th in the league in points per second half (52.4), second half average margin (+0.2) and second half Net Rating (+1.3).
Philadelphia has been able to see this boost thanks to much better shooting performances. During the season, the Sixers shot 35.2 percent from beyond the arc during the second half of games. In the series against the Heat, the team shot 40.3 percent from deep in the games’ final 24 minutes.
While the 3-point shot is important and is always fun to see, the jump that the Sixers made at the free throw line may have been more important in this physical series. The team attempted 4.3 more free throws per second half in the postseason than the regular season, upping its free throw rate from 30 percent to 40 percent. Philadelphia shot just 75.1 percent from the line in second halves during the season, which ranked 25th in the NBA. In the first series of the playoffs, the team is 79.8 percent on free throws, which is fourth in the league.
While second halves have been frustrating, it is obvious that turnovers have often been the downfall. The Sixers ranked last in the league with 8.6 second half turnovers per game. They were second in the NBA with 12.6 assists but still sat at 23rd in assist-to-turnover ratio.
During the playoffs, Philadelphia ranks first in assists and fifth in assist-to-turnover ratio. They have averaged seven more assists than turnovers per game, which is tied for first in the playoffs with the Golden State Warriors.
While most of the bad things improved for the Sixers, the things they were already good at just got better. The team led the league with a 52.9 rebounding percentage but during the series against the Heat, the 76ers pushed that up to 60.3 percent during the second halves. The only reason Philadelphia had a positive, second-half Net Rating during the regular season was its 103.3 defensive rating which ranked fifth in the league. In the first round, the Sixers lowered that defensive rating to 96.6 which is second among playoff teams.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid lead the way with the lowest defensive ratings on the team during the playoffs but everyone else has pitched in as well. J.J. Redick is 14th among postseason players in defensive rating, just above Rudy Gobert. The Sixers have six of the NBA’s top eight players in second half Net Rating during the playoffs. Simmons leads the way with a plus-29.9 rating in 19.2 minutes per game.
Brett Brown has had a couple of go-to lineups for these games. The obvious death-lineup of Simmons, Redick, Embiid, Robert Covington and Dario Saric has a plus-10.9 Net Rating in 13 second half minutes together. Meanwhile, the team’s best second half lineup has been with Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli taking the spot of Embiid and Covington. That lineup has a plus-29.9 net rating, which ranks 5th among playoff lineups that have played at least 12 second half minutes.
Of course, all of this may be relative to who the opponent is. The Heat had the NBA’s ninth worst second half Net Rating in the regular season and they did not look much better in the postseason. Their physical play seemingly wore down Miami while the young Sixers team waited to attack down the stretch.
As a whole, it is obviously important to learn how to play 48 minutes every night. However, seeing this team perform the way it needs to in order to close out games is refreshing. If it was the Sixers biggest weakness in the regular season, the rest of the NBA should be scared to see them finding a resolution.
The Sixers will be the most rested team in the Eastern Conference semifinals. The next round’s start date is still to be determined as the Celtics and Bucks are still trying to decide who actually wants to try to beat Philadelphia.