Neither the Sixers nor the Heat had anything close to a full-strength team for Tuesday night’s game at Wells Fargo Center.
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For the first time in their last three contests, though, the Sixers had a manpower advantage. They managed to capitalize in dramatic fashion, beating an eight-man Heat team in overtime by a 137-134 score and improving to 8-4 on the season.
Two-way player Dakota Mathias nailed the go-ahead three-pointer with 26.1 seconds left in overtime, his only points of the game. He then guarded Tyler Herro well, forcing the Heat guard to miss a tough three from the wing.
Eight Miami players were sidelined for health and safety reasons. The Sixers had 10 players available, including Ben Simmons, who returned after missing the last two games with left knee swelling. However, Tony Bradley and Paul Reed didn’t play, meaning it was effectively an 8-on-8 game.
Here are observations on the Sixers’ wild win over the Heat:
Embiid's huge second half (and OT), Simmons' struggles
Veterans Danny Green and Mike Scott, who combined to shoot 0 for 12 from long distance in Atlanta, were actually the Sixers’ most productive offensive players in the opening half, totaling 25 of the team’s 55 points. Green kept it going after halftime, scoring 29 points and making 9 of 21 threes in the game. He’s been doing this long enough not to be discouraged by a bad shooting night or two.
Simmons created three-point opportunities for his teammates, as he usually does, but was poor otherwise offensively in the first half. He only attempted one field goal, turned it over five times and picked up three fouls, including two charges. We can’t glean much from a single game in which 18 total players were active. Still, even with his recent injury in mind, it’s obviously fair to say Simmons wasn’t near his best on this particular night. He fouled out with 3:29 remaining in regulation and finished with five points, six rebounds and 12 assists.
Embiid took over in the third quarter, scoring 20 points in the period. The big man finished inside, drained turnaround jumpers, drew fouls and did just about anything else he wanted. Matchups against rookie Precious Achiuwa and Chris Silva were clearly favorable for Embiid, but he nevertheless was highly impressive, especially on the second night of a back-to-back.
During a chaotic sequence at the end of regulation, Green missed a potential go-ahead three and Embiid was fouled after grabbing the offensive rebound. Rivers then drew up an isolation at the top of the key for Embiid against Achiuwa on the ensuing side out-of-bounds play, and he came through with a pull-up jumper from the left elbow to tie the game.
In overtime, Embiid again played at the superstar level he'd reached in the third quarter, hitting tightly contested jumpers and carrying the Sixers' offense. His final stat line: 45 points, 16 rebounds, five steals, four assists.
We assumed the Sixers would stifle the Heat’s offense with both Simmons and Embiid in the lineup. The team had a strong 102.7 defensive rating when its two stars were on the floor this season, per Cleaning the Glass, and Miami was missing important playmakers in Jimmy Butler, Bam Adebayo and Goran Dragic. Surely, against a depleted opponent, the Sixers would resemble the team that led the league in defensive rating early this season. We were wrong.
The Sixers allowed Miami’s sharpshooters too many open looks, struggling to track players around screens, helping excessively or simply not closing out with sufficient urgency. They also committed several costly fouls on jump shooters. Embiid and Simmons being on the court doesn't guarantee defensive success; the Sixers still need to pay attention to the details on that end of the court.
The team's effort was a bit better in the second half, although Herro, Duncan Robinson and two-way player Gabe Vincent all scored over 20 points and helped Miami come close to an improbable win.
Growing concern, added protocols
Thursday’s Sixers vs. Heat game will now tip off at 7 p.m. and no longer be televised on TNT, the NBA announced. These games in which both rosters are shrunken by COVID-19 protocols are apparently not attractive for a national audience (although this one was sure entertaining in the fourth quarter and overtime).
The NBA and NBPA announced additional health and safety protocols Tuesday. Players must wear masks at all times on the bench, pregame locker room meetings are capped at 10 minutes and all attendees must wear masks, and players and team staff are prohibited from leaving their hotel or interacting with guests at the hotel. You can read the full press release on the new measures here.
“I think it’s coming from the outside to the inside, and so we just have to be more vigilant when we’re away from arenas and practice facilities,” Rivers said before the game, “because I think that’s the safest place you can be. It’s when we walk outside is when the real world comes into our bubble.”
Celtics-Magic and Wizards-Jazz games scheduled for Wednesday have been postponed for healthy and safety seasons, which makes it six postponed NBA games this season. The Sixers are scheduled to play Boston twice next week.
It’s an understatement to say that the last few days have been inauspicious for the NBA. Fewer games now remain on the schedule, but both the health and safety situation and competitive imbalances have been concerning. They remain issues worth acknowledging, even on a night that produced a wild game and exciting finish.