Sixers Observations: Sixers Lose Nightmarish Game to Heat

Thursday night in Miami couldn't have gone much worse for the Sixers, who fell to a 106-94 loss in a testy game.

3 observations after Sixers lose nightmarish, testy game to Heat originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The Sixers entered Thursday night’s game in Miami hoping to secure the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed.

By the second quarter, they were trailing by 22 points and well on their way to a 106-94 loss worse than one Tobias Harris had called “terrible” Tuesday night against the Pacers.  

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The Sixers will conclude their home mini-series on Friday and Sunday nights against the Magic. A win in one of those games would lock up the top seed. 

Heat star Jimmy Butler had 21 points, five rebounds and four assists. Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 21 points on 8-for-17 shooting.

Matisse Thybulle (left hand swelling) and Victor Oladipo (right quadriceps tendon surgery) were out. Joel Embiid, Furkan Korkmaz and Shake Milton returned for the Sixers. 

Here are three observations on their dreadful defeat to the Heat: 

Nightmarish start 

Harris thought the Sixers lost their composure late in Tuesday's game. Their frustration level remained high early against Miami.

Embiid and Trevor Ariza were each assessed technical fouls after some squabbling when Embiid missed a runner and crumpled onto Ariza’s legs. Embiid was also unhappy when he was called for a moving screen with 1:59 left in the first, his second foul. Ben Simmons was whistled for his third foul late in the second period, though head coach Doc Rivers stuck with him. 

Miami’s defense was very good from the opening tip-off, forcing the Sixers to work deep into the shot clock and sending aggressive help on Embiid and Harris post-ups. The Sixers’ ball and player movement was not nearly crisp enough in response to that defensive intensity. It didn’t help that the Sixers’ first made three-pointer was a Seth Curry shot with 4:15 left in the second quarter. 

Another indication of the Heat’s superior effort: Miami held a 27-12 first-half rebounding advantage. 

Just when it appeared things couldn’t get any better for the Heat, 40-year-old Udonis Haslem entered for his first action of the season and scored four quick points. His stint was short, though. Haslem was ejected following a face-to-face, finger-pointing confrontation with Dwight Howard. 

Howard picked up his 16th technical foul. Unless it’s rescinded, he’ll be suspended for a game. The 35-year-old will have a clean slate once the playoffs begin. 

Dewayne Dedmon and Howard had an altercation in the third quarter, too, with Dedmon earning a technical. Howard managed to avoid any trouble in that instance. 

Rough night for Embiid, Sixers’ half-court defense 

The Sixers started the game with Danny Green guarding Jimmy Butler and Ben Simmons defending Duncan Robinson.

The Green vs. Butler matchup didn’t begin well for them. A low-volume 21.4 three-point shooter on the season heading into Thursday’s game, Butler made three long-range jumpers in the first quarter. He scored 16 points on 5-for-5 shooting in the period and also drew two fouls on Green, which led to the insertion of George Hill. 

Simmons’ versatility gives the Sixers options, and Rivers has often preferred having him open up on someone besides an opposing star ball handler. Robinson was scoreless until the third quarter, so that part of Rivers’ decision worked. It was one of very few things that broke the Sixers’ way Thursday. Tyler Herro picked up Robinson’s outside shooting slack, scoring 18 points off the bench.

Embiid, who’d been a game-time decision with a non-COVID illness, never looked sharp or in rhythm. He had a season-low six points on 3-for-9 shooting and was decisively outplayed by Bam Adebayo (18 points, 12 rebounds, eight assists). The four-time All-Star was clearly below his best in terms of health but aiming to do his part in wrapping up the No. 1 seed. 

In a departure from the norm, the Sixers’ transition defense was fine but their half-court defense was not, even when Embiid and Simmons shared the floor. Thybulle’s absence was a factor but no excuse. 

Second unit struggles against zone 

Miami turned to a zone defense late in the first quarter against the Sixers’ bench.

The Sixers’ decision-making against the zone was too deliberate. Besides Tyrese Maxey, who was a willing but ineffective driver in the first half, the Sixers looked unsure of how to attack the Heat. If the Sixers ultimately meet Miami in the second round of the playoffs, expect zone defense to be a key factor. 

Overall, it would be a stretch to identify any aspect of the Sixers’ showing as positive. Harris having a decent scoring game might qualify.

Zooming out from Thursday night, the Sixers are still first in the Eastern Conference and about to play two games against a 21-win Magic team. This was a low-quality performance across the board, but it’s not an indication that the Sixers’ position in the standings is fraudulent or a sign that the playoffs will go poorly.

Still, the Sixers will need to play much better in the postseason. Before that, though, they must handle their business against Orlando. 

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