The Sixers tied things up 2-2 over the weekend and now it’s a best two of three series. If you didn’t watch the game, you might be tempted to glance at that score board and say “well, they let Jimmy Butler get his, but they were determined to stop everyone else.” And there’d be some truth to that.
Butler went nuclear, finishing with 40 points on just 20 attempts, Bam Adebayo provided a boost with 21 points on just 12 attempts, but every other key rotation player for Erik Spoelstra wasn’t half as efficient.
But as Doc Rivers noted after Game 4, role players tend to shoot better at home. And now we’re heading back to South Beach. That means Danny Green may not continue to shoot 77 percent and Tyler Hero may not continue to shoot 25 percent from distance like they each did in Philly.
So they’ll need to figure out a way to cut down on Butler’s shots at the rim and free throws.
“He was amazing tonight,” Rivers said after Game 4. “I moved him to second all time at Marquette. I really did. It was [Dwyane] Wade, then of course [me], then Jimmy, now Jimmy is ahead of me for sure, so I gave that up tonight. I’m joking.”
Rivers went to Marquette University just like Heat legend D-Wade. And he joked that Butler was so good, he “finally” passed Doc himself.
This shot chart shows you how lethal the former Sixer was, getting a ton of shots up right at the rim, and drawing fouls at a Wade-like clip. Those X’s in the midrange are what the Sixers would like to see more of:
“He was tough. Listen, I gotta watch film, but he frustrated me tonight. [Assistant] Dan Burke was off the cliff almost,” Rivers continued. “He made everything. You know what he did tonight, he went left a lot. That’s something that, in the past, he’s really not done. So, we’re gonna have to figure that one out because he was tough, he scored on everyone. He didn’t care who it was — he was scoring. He’s tough.”
Butler shot 5 for 8 in the first half of Game 5. The Sixers were losing him in transition, and he was helping put some key Sixers on the bench by drawing fouls. Tobias Harris and James Harden picked up two fouls apiece in the opening frame. By the third quarter, both Harris and Danny Green were on the bench with four personals. And much of Butler’s damage came there.
Embiid had a bigger responsibility as a perimeter stopper with Harris and Green limited with fouls. And he got matched up on JB plenty of times.
Here you can see Embiid overcommit on his help taking away the roll action from P.J. Tucker. The chances that a hobbled Kyle Lowry and Tucker were gonna create a big advantage here wasn’t worth leaving Bam and Jimmy:
Thought Sixers overplayed some defensive possessions Sunday. Here, two man action Lowry-Tucker we get an aggressive help from Embiid worried about Tucker rolling maybe. That leaves Harris to cover both Bam and Butler, takes a foul. Tobias would sit the final 7 min of 3rd. pic.twitter.com/wXFFzRtfHF— DaveEarly (@DavidEarly) May 10, 2022
The result was that Harris gets stuck with both Heat stars and takes his third foul. The next Harris personal, (a questionable call where Victor Oladipo appeared to hook his arm in order to sell contact) sent him to the bench for more than seven minutes to close the third.
Harris has been way too valuable for this Sixers squad. They can’t afford for him to ride too much pine in the games to come. Same goes for Green, especially when he’s shooting the lights out.
“The humble side of me says we gotta be better defensively when we got to Miami,” Doc said. “You’re not gonna speed Jimmy up. We know that. You’re not gonna speed James [Harden] up and they know that.”
Butler was a machine in that third period, scoring 17 points on just 7 attempts. The Sixers gave a relatively reluctant shooter the Steph Curry treatment, worrying about his midrange game. So instead, Butler pump faked them into oblivion. If you close out too hard, he’s gone. If you leave your feet, he’s angling for and-ones. There’s a pump fake from the triple threat. And there’s another pump fake after his dribble move, leaving you at least three chances to commit a foul. He’s like a basketball version of Pete Sampras, just methodically, non-spectacularly, giving you chances to make that key mistake. Then it’s Jimmy Buckets.
And of all people, it was Embiid who needed at times to be reminded to get back to his fundamentals. Joel has studied these Hakeem Olajuwon dream shake moves himself. And he let his former teammate put a few highlight reels right over him; as Doc says, even going left occasionally.
Miami does a good job creating space for Butler to work, leaving him on islands. The Sixers probably don’t want to over help when Embiid is checking him. But what about when it’s Green, or Harris, or Tyrese Maxey? These are key decisions that occur spur of the moment, and depend if a shooter like Herro is weak or strong side.
In many of these instances, the Sixers would have been better off with softer close outs, tempting JB into pull ups. Instead, they bite (just enough) on the fakes, often leaving their feet, and give him better shots and continuations:
Of course, you can’t talk about the Sixers’ defense without flagging a few baffling transition blunders. Nobody stopping the ball on a Kyle Lowry layup, Harden forcing a pass on a key two-on-one, but nobody else coming to help him, and the occasional botched switch:
Finally, you can see a few more of the cheap fouls. These aren’t all Butler. But the Sixers are going to need to keep those hands up, because Miami is looking to rip through, hook, and break check them, and at least in Game 4, the refs were buying much of what the Heat were selling:
Ultimately, Embiid was insane defensively. He anchored his team and was good enough to tie this series up, a series that looks like a whole new ballgame with him out there. But the biggest test may be in front of them.
They held Miami to 108 points, scoring 116. But there was room for improvement, especially considering the Heat’s others will probably shoot better next battle.
Here’s a few of the possessions that probably did not make Dan Burke jump off that cliff:
On those looks, the Sixers close out or contest, but not too much. You want him to decide to shoot, and then contest as best you can without hacking.
When the Sixers played the Heat in round one of the playoffs back in 2018 (Joel was in a mask) and the Sixers were all instructed not to bite on the D-Wade pump fakes. They may need to bust out some of those notes if they want to come away with a W Tuesday night.