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Sixers Fall to Heat in Game 1 of Eastern Conference Semifinals

3 observations after Heat pull away from Sixers to take Game 1 originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

MIAMI — The Sixers could not cobble together a win Monday night without their superstar.

The team dropped Game 1 of its second-round series with the Heat, falling Monday night to a 106-92 loss at FTX Arena.

Joel Embiid (right orbital fracture and concussion) and Kyle Lowry (left hamstring strain) were sidelined for Game 1.

Tyler Herro scored 25 points, Bam Adebayo 24.

Tobias Harris (27 points), Tyrese Maxey (19) and James Harden (16) were the Sixers' leading scorers.

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Game 2 will tip off Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. Here are observations on the Sixers' loss Monday:

Four centers in a half

DeAndre Jordan started and the Sixers fell into a quick hole.

Since April 30, 2017, Jordan had 0.8 seconds of postseason playing time. Bam Adebayo is a current All-Defensive Team player, while Jordan is a long ways away from that stage of his career.

The Sixers trailed 15-6 when Jordan exited after 4 minutes and 12 seconds, and Adebayo already had six points on 3-for-3 shooting. Pick-and-roll defense is inevitably challenging when Jordan’s involved. Jimmy Butler walked into two straight pull-up jumpers, the second of which was wide open because the Sixers botched their coverage.

Paul Reed’s entry did not quell Miami’s surge. Reed committed two early fouls and a backcourt turnover that eventually led to a Butler three-pointer that put Miami up 25-11.

Still, it didn’t take Reed much time to provide more positives than Jordan. He scored two hoops inside off of pick-and-rolls with Harden. Jordan is bigger and a greater threat to slam in lobs, yes, but Reed’s hands are better and the 22-year-old is refining his chemistry with Harden. After a dismal beginning to the series for the Sixers, it was a small reminder that everything wasn't bleak.

Paul Millsap opened the second quarter in the middle of the Sixers’ zone. Though the team kept the game in a manageable place, it’s obvious that most aspects of the Sixers’ defense are hurt by Embiid’s absence. After Victor Oladipo hit an easy floater over Millsap, Sixers head coach Doc Rivers appeared to gesture on the sidelines that the big man in the zone must be higher up to take away that shot. Tough task for Millsap, a 37-year-old who played zero April minutes.

Butler drew Reed’s third foul with a smart pump fake, so the Sixers subbed last season’s G League MVP out with 4:39 to go in the second quarter. Georges Niang checked in.

Niang didn’t drain threes, but he competed hard, avoided mistakes and gave the Sixers an intangible boost. Rivers has called Niang the Sixers’ “emotional leader,” and that felt fitting Monday night in the final minutes of the first half.

After a go-ahead Harden layup, Niang contested Butler well at the rim and Harris had a long-range try to send the Sixers into intermission with a four-point lead. He missed the shot, but it still was remarkable that the Sixers ended a half that began so badly with a slim advantage.

Niang had an uncharacteristically brutal shooting game, going 0 for 7 from three-point range. The Sixers were 6 for 34 as a team.

Charles Bassey made it five Sixers centers for the evening in garbage time, returning to action after sitting out the Sixers' first-round series with a right shoulder injury.

Herro's huge night

Harden and Maxey combined to start 2 for 10 from the field and 1 for 6 from three-point range.

Luck was a factor. Harden saw one of his threes spin around the rim and out, and didn’t get away with shedding P.J. Tucker on a first-quarter fast break. If the Sixers were the team that earned the No. 1 seed, perhaps he would’ve gotten a more

The Harden vs. Tucker matchup will be fascinating to watch throughout the series. The former Rockets teammates likely won’t catch each other by surprise in any way, but they’ll both be seeking any hidden areas where they can perhaps gain an edge. Of course, officiating also will be an especially important area with those two. Harden only took four free throws and was unhappy with a no-call on a three-point attempt late in the second quarter.

Maxey drew a team-high six foul shots. The Sixers never want him fully easing off the gas, and he’s figuring out ways he can still score when the his defender cuts off his first move or the paint is occupied.

The Sixers “hunted” Tyler Herro on one occasion by having Matisse Thybulle screen for Harden and create the desired switch. Harden made a three over Herro. Setting drag screens and step-up screens for Harden generally looked worthwhile, too.

Herro was massive for Miami offensively. He capitalized on the Sixers' miscues, like a third-quarter zone breakdown that left him free for a three at the top of the key, and looked like he expected to score on every touch. With the Sixers determined to prevent any further Herro damage, he found Adebayo for a pick-and-roll layup that gave Miami a 16-point lead with 7:47 remaining. A Herro three less than a minute later prompted Rivers to call another timeout.

Hoping something sticks

Rivers recognized that a conventional approach to filling Embiid’s void likely wouldn’t cut it.

“You have to really be open,” he said pregame. “These are those games where you have to be free enough and fearless enough to try a lot of different things that you probably wouldn’t try (usually), but you may fall on something.”

Within 15 minutes, the Sixers used 11 players.

They seemed to improbably be holding up fine early in the second quarter, surviving largely thanks to Miami's low success rate on zone jumpers, but Caleb Martin then skated past Furkan Korkmaz to restore a double-digit Heat lead. No problems with Rivers experimenting and seeing what might work without Embiid, but the Sixers don't appear to have any great, news answers from a personnel standpoint. The margin for error, both from a coaching and playing standpoint, is low. Needless to say, starting Jordan didn't work well.

Ultimately, the Sixers' path to winning with their best player out must involve strong performances from Harden, Harris and Maxey, minimal mistakes, and the self-belief and toughness necessary to respond to Miami runs.

There were bits and pieces of the above in Game 1, but not nearly enough.

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