The Sixers didn’t have James Harden or Joel Embiid on Monday night against the first-place Heat, and it didn’t matter. Shake Milton and Furkan Korkmaz stepped up with big performances off the bench, Georges Niang added 15 points, Tobias Harris chipped in with 14, and Tyrese Maxey led the way with 28 points and a stellar fourth quarter to carry the Sixers to an improbable, impressive 113-106 win.
As the Sixers scored 33 points in the fourth quarter and edged in front — with Maxey alone scoring 13 in the period, including an individual 9-0 run to help seal the game — hunting one specific matchup was a vital part of their offensive approach. They repeatedly targeted Tyler Herro, shooting 14-of-21 against him throughout the game with a flurry of buckets coming against him in the fourth quarter.
So, let’s go through some possessions to see how exactly the Sixers went after Herro.
The first play is a simple one, with Niang stepping up with something he doesn’t use too often: an isolated post-up. As Niang comes down the court and Herro picks him up, the Sixers’ three other shooters (Milton, Korkmaz and Danny Green) clear out to the left side of the floor along with DeAndre Jordan. Niang is then left with plenty of space on the opposite side, and quickly finds good positioning for a short hook shot over Herro:
On the next play, Green is being guarded by Herro and comes over to set a ball screen to switch Herro onto Milton, who successfully attacked Herro a few times. Once Milton gets downhill and starts collapsing the defense, Max Strus (Korkmaz’s defender) starts watching the ball from the weak-side corner in case he needs to come help at the rim. Korkmaz takes advantage of his man being distracted and makes a timely cut for a layup:
“We just kinda found a matchup that we liked, and once it worked a couple times we just kept going that way,” Milton said after the game.
He didn’t need to name Herro to make it clear what the strategy was.
“It didn’t matter if they were switching or not ... we were able to take advantage of it. If we find something that works, we’re gonna keep going at it until they stop it.”
The Sixers frequently utilized a simple dribble weave action to great effect, where quick-hitting dribble hand-offs kept the ball moving, kept Miami’s defense switching and rotating, and established favorable matchups on Herro.
The two plays in the clip below both result in Maxey scoring on Herro. On the first possession, Maxey takes the ball from a hand-off, gets Herro backtracking down the lane with a sudden burst of speed, stops on a dime, then pulls up for a jumper. On the second play, Maxey beats Herro all the way to the rim, then uses a perfect scoop finish high off the backboard to beat Bam Adebayo’s contest:
“We work on it a lot,” Doc Rivers said after the game when asked about how to win without stars. “We know, going into the year I’ll say this, with Joel you know he’s gonna miss some games. And I thought last year we weren’t prepared for it until the second half of the year. This year we work on it every day. What are we gonna do? How are we gonna score? Space the floor. And we work on it every day.”
Rivers also specifically mentioned the dribble weave action the Sixers used as something the team’s supporting cast is comfortable running.
“They play that dribble weave stuff every day in practice. And so they’re comfortable when they come in the game to do that. And moving forward, we’ve been doing it with James as well. Think about that same kind of motion with James doing it. It can be pretty good, but you’ve got to give up yourself to do it, and I thought our guys did that today.”
Harris got in on the action, too. Here, after another dribble weave leaves Herro switched onto Harris, Maxey kicks the ball back to Tobias, who uses his size and strength advantage to power his way to the rim:
As the Sixers push the ball in transition on the following play, Herro ends up guarding Harris again. Maxey promptly passes to his teammate, and Harris bullies his way inside again, this time hitting a short floater:
The Sixers found success when the Heat used a zone defense as well. On this play, they flow from their dribble weave action into another Harris drive, and spring Korkmaz open for a triple thanks to drawing a second defender to the ball and using a well-placed pin-down screen from Paul Millsap:
To cap off the game in style in the last 90 seconds (and pick on Herro one last time), Maxey displayed more of his impressive and rapidly-developing three-point shot-making. In two isolations against Herro, Maxey buried two huge threes to help secure the win. On the first play, Maxey gets his desired matchup from a switch off a ball screen, then goes at Herro again 20 seconds later:
Oh, and then Maxey made that emphatic chase-down block on Caleb Martin as well to really seal the deal — as if Philly’s young star hadn’t done enough already.
“I mean Maxey was terrific tonight, obviously we really struggled to contain him off the dribble,” Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra said after the game when talking about defending the Sixers’ late-game offense. “But Milton came in and gave some really important minutes in that second half and had some big baskets in the fourth quarter and really helped them take the lead, and they just carried on from there. And by the time they got some easy ones we couldn’t keep them out of the paint, particularly trying to contain them off the dribble regardless of the scheme. It was not our best version, not taking anything away from them, but then at that point of course you see that ball go in several times and Maxey hit a couple of big threes after that.”
Doc Rivers deserves credit for pushing this effective matchup hunting on Monday, as do his players for executing so well in Harden and Embiid’s absence. The shorthanded Sixers took their opponent (and fans) by surprise to earn one of their best wins of the season.