It was a flat Sixers effort from the start. They began with poor execution on offense, and lacking energy on defense and on the boards. The Heat pulled away with a 31-19 lead after the first quarter, and despite a few brief runs where the Sixers looked like they could claw their way back slightly in the second, a comeback was completely out of reach in the second half.
Now, the Sixers return home for potential elimination in Game 6 on Thursday. Adjustments in terms of scheme and intensity need to come if they want to take this series to a Game 7.
Unsurprisingly, Kyle Lowry remains listed as out for the Heat with a left hamstring strain. Meanwhile, Matisse Thybulle (left foot soreness) has joined Embiid on the latest injury report as questionable.
So, what are a few things the Sixers can change to get back on track?
Cut out careless passes
Even though the Sixers lack many quality, confident passers, which will unfortunately lead to some wayward entry passes at times against the Heat’s aggressive defense, there were some sloppy plays in Game 5 that could have easily been avoided.
Philly had 15 turnovers, which also helped Miami easily win the fast-break scoring edge, 15-6.
From some messy entry passes that really shouldn’t be that difficult to careless passes around the perimeter, the Sixers need to tighten up their basic execution to avoid needlessly wasting possessions.
This is easier said than done, given the Sixers’ serious lack of depth on their bench. However, when Matisse Thybulle isn’t providing reliable, high-level defense (and he hasn’t this series), he can’t play against a Heat team that is going to ignore him offensively and send extra pressure at the other four players on the floor. When Georges Niang isn’t hitting threes, he’s giving you nothing. This has largely been the case through the second round — he’s 4-of-24 from deep in the series so far, with two scoreless games. His offensive presence simply won’t balance out his lacking speed on defense that can easily be targeted.
If Thybulle and Niang are struggling, the Sixers have to do what they can to reduce their minutes. Again, it’s not easy. The Sixers don’t have any other reliable wings to turn to. But getting as many minutes as possible from Danny Green, and giving Shake Milton or Furkan Korkmaz a few minutes here and there to see if they can at least hit a three or two would be preferable at this point.
Adapting against Miami’s defensive changes
The Heat made some notable defensive adjustments in Game 5. They stopped having Bam Adebayo immediately switch on ball screens as often, instead asking on-ball defenders to fight over screens. Meanwhile, Adebayo focused on fronting Embiid with as much aggression and physicality as possible, and generally dropping back more to protect the rim. By not switching so much, the Heat were able to avoid smaller defenders being matched up on Embiid, which only made it harder for the Sixers to find and exploit mismatches and get the ball to Embiid posting up.
When the Heat are keeping Adebayo on Embiid and fronting him this aggressively, the Sixers need to be ready to adapt.
The Heat didn't switch as much in Game 5, and kept Bam on Embiid more to drop or front. It worked well, and the Sixers' offensive execution wasn't nearly good enough.— Tom West (@TomWestNBA) May 11, 2022
Here's a quick look at one example: pic.twitter.com/hkC50NjOFt
Perhaps use Embiid more as a screener in pick-and-roll actions. Swing the ball and find a different passing angle if there’s no clear entry to Embiid initially. Don’t just force feed passes to Embiid in the post if there’s too much pressure on him. Maybe use more hammer screens and pin-downs off the ball to potentially free up shooters and at least make Heat defenders work, rather than falling into spells of limited movement as players watch and wait for Embiid to create something. Just try something to liven things up when possessions slow down and Embiid is hard to reach.
Can the stars bounce back?
Along with any schematic adjustments, the Sixers simply getting better production from some of their top players can make all the difference for a team that’s so top heavy.
Will Embiid be any more comfortable against the Heat’s defense? Can Tobias Harris provide some better scoring inside the arc again? James Harden was the main Sixers starter to even keep them somewhat close in the first half of Game 5, but can he find another big scoring output like he delivered in Game 4? Can Tyrese Maxey rediscover the three-level scoring he’s shown earlier in the series? Maxey was largely uninvolved, less aggressive, and more mid-range reliant in Game 5. It was a rare non-impactful game for the sophomore star, who’s had a terrific playoffs overall as a first-time starter in the postseason.
Jimmy Butler also thrived when defending Maxey more in Game 5. Butler was disruptive on ball when need be, and often helped far off Maxey to be a nuisance around the floor. If the Heat stick with that matchup in Game 6, Maxey and the Sixers need to be ready to find openings for him to attack whenever Butler gives him more off-ball space.
The Sixers are being slightly favored in their return to Philadelphia, heading into Game 6 as a 2-point favorite. Even after such a crushing loss on Tuesday, a small edge is understandable given how well the Sixers played at home in Game 3 and 4.
We can only wait and see which Sixers team shows up on Thursday. If they don’t bring maximum intensity from tip-off, get a few more threes from their role players, and make some changes, their season will likely be over.
When: 7:00 pm ET, May 12, 2022
Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic
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