PHILADELPHIA – The Sixers entered the postseason having won 16 straight games, a streak that allowed them to jump to third in the Eastern Conference standings.
And they did not slow down in Game 1 of the opening round of the playoffs.
Philadelphia crushed the Heat, 130-103, Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center in a game that was the poster child for playoff basketball in the Eastern Conference, despite the final score.
Neither team backed from the other in a physical, bruising game in which bodies were all over the floor. But the difference was while the Sixers played physical, they also hit their shots, especially those from long distance. Philadelphia was a stunning 64.3 percent on 3-pointers, making 18-of-28 shots, the most threes allowed by the Heat in the postseason. The Sixers point total was also the most by a Heat opponent in the playoffs, surpassing the 120 scored by Chicago in 1992.
“They hit a lot of shots,” Heat big man Kelly Olynyk said. “Credit to them they made plays, play after play after play. We kind of got a little discombobulated on the other end, kind of got out of our game, off our game for a little trying to play catch up the whole time and then you do things you don’t normally do trying to make up ground. It obviously didn’t work.”
The Heat led by as many as 12 points in the first half and a 15-0 Philadelphia run turned a seven-point Heat lead one minute into the second half into an eight-point Sixers lead four minutes later. And Philadelphia did not let up.
“The game has to be more on our terms,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “Even in the first half that was probably still more on their terms. Ball control, getting to coherent offense, getting to what you want to without turning it over. Then we have to execute with a little bit more coherency and detail and discipline down the stretch. The defense that we’re accustomed to showing also would help us get some of our own in transition.
“In the second half, we just let the floodgates go,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “You do have to credit them. They shot the ball, the heck out of it. (JJ) Redick and Marco) Belinelli were coming off full speed on screens and we did not show the kind of force of physicality. We were late to the game on those plays time and time again. Look, that’s something has got to change Monday. That’s it.”
The Heat have lost 13 of their last 15 on the road and are in danger of falling behind 0-2 in the series if they do not reverse that trend Monday, with Game 2 set to start at 8 p.m.
Redick led the Sixers with 28 points. Belinelli added 25 off the bench.
The Heat were led by Olynyk, who had 26 points. But the bigger Heat story was Hassan Whiteside, who played just 12 minutes. Coach Erik Spoelstra removed Whiteside just 4:06 into the third quarter and the big man never returned. He finished with two points and six rebounds.
And all this as the Sixers were without All-Star center Joel Embiid, who missed his ninth straight game after suffering a fractured orbital bone and concussion. Embiid could return for Game 2.
Here are our five takeaways:
Another inexplicable night for Whiteside: Hassan Whiteside should have been as ready for this game – and determined to make his mark on the series – as he has at anytime in his career knowing he could change the narrative on his career with a big series. Instead, Whiteside’s body language said it all. Whiteside was replaced by Olynyk 6:41 into the game, and Olynyk scored 11 points and grabbed four rebounds in the next nine minutes. Whiteside re-entered with 8:38 to play in the second quarter and 1:39 later Spoelstra saw enough, rushing Olynyk back into the game for Whiteside. Then, with 7:54 remaining in the third quarter, Olynyk again came in for Whiteside and Whiteside never returned, sitting emotionless on the bench.
“I think coach wanted some change,” Whiteside said. “K.O. was playing well. Of course, I would love to be out there rebounding and blocking shots and be out there with my teammates. But I think K.O. was playing well so coach just wanted to get him out there.
“I trust coach. I trust his decision-making. We didn’t get this one. They shot amazing from the field. We didn’t get this one, but we move to Game 2.”
Streaking Sixers: OK, Philadelphia has to lose sometime or this is going to be a very short series. The Sixers entered the game having won their final 16 games of the regular season and kept it going in Game 1. Of the 16 wins to end the season, 11 of those were by double figures, including three by at least 20 points. And this game started out well for the Heat, who built a 12-point lead in the first half but turned quickly early in the third quarter on a 15-0 Sixers run that gave them an eight-point lead. The Sixers dominated the quarter, outscoring Miami, 34-18. The Heat went cold from the floor (5 of 19) during the quarter while the Sixers heated up (13 of 25).
“They were the same (as in they were in the regular season),” Goran Dragic said. “They just played unbelievably well. They were hitting some shots. They didn’t go away from their game. They were physical the whole game. The catch-and-go shooters were really hot and we just fell apart in the third and fourth quarters.”
The Ben Simmon conundrum: Like every other team, the Heat’s game plan on Ben Simmons was to limit his drives to the basket. Miami tried to do that with Josh Richardson starting out covering Simmons before Justise Winslow and then James Johnson took turns. Spoelstra switched the matchup at the start of the second half, putting Johnson on Simmons and Richardson on Ersan Ilyasova. Each had their share of success as Simmons stared 2-of-7, both baskets being dunks. But Simmons’ impact on a game has nothing to do with points. One of the most unique players in the league was one rebound shy of a triple-double, finishing with 17 points, 14 rebounds and nine assists.
Heat need more, much more, from Richardson: Josh Richardson was the Heat’s best player for about a six-week stretch in December and early January. Since, Richardson’s offensive has been inconsistent. But Richardson picked a bad night to have one of his worst games of the season. The 6-foot-6 wingman scored just four points and did not register a field goal until late in the game. He was 1-of-7 from the field.
“It was tough because we couldn’t get our bigs into the game like we wanted to, but you have to give their coach a lot of credit,” Richardson said. “The adjustments he made and the plays they made were making it very tough on us.
“We just have to go back and regroup. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or anything. We have to study the film and figure out how to guard their runners and shooters better than we did. That’s where it starts.”
Odds may be longer but Heat not dead, yet: Though the Heat have fared much better when they win the first game of a playoff series, this one is far from over. Miami is 17-5 in series in which they took a 1-0 lead compared to 8-11 in series in which they dropped the first game. Miami, though, still can accomplish what it hoped when the series started and that is flip home-court advantage by winning Monday’s Game 2, even though the task could get more difficult if Sixers’ All-Star center Joel Embiid returns. Embiid missed the last nine games after suffering a fractured orbital bone, for which he had surgery, and a concussion.
“We’ve got to go to work,” Spoelstra said. “We have some work to do. Our guys understand that. They don’t get two wins, three wins for this. It’s one win.”