PHILADELPHIA – The 76ers lived by the three in Game 1.
They died by the three in Game 2. And the Miami Heat had a lot to do with that.
“We communicated better,” center Hassan Whiteside said. “We were more physical. We came out here and I felt the first game we gave them too much respect.”
The Heat’s 113-103 Game 2 victory Monday that knotted the series at 1 game apiece and flipped home court advantage to Miami was a polar opposite than the Sixers’ 130-103 dismantling of the Heat in Game 1. … especially from 3-point range.
Philadelphia shot 19.4 percent on threes in Game 2 compared to a stunning 64.3 percent in Game 1. The Sixers were 7-of-36 in Game 2 after making 18-of-28 in the series opener, the most ever by a Sixers team in the postseason and the most allowed by a Heat team in the playoffs.
A big reason was disrupting the Sixers’ ball movement. The Heat had 27 deflections, a substantial improvement from the four deflections in Game 1. Miami also contested 30 of the Sixers’ 3-point attempts in Game 2, seven more than Game 1.
As a result, the Heat’s defensive rating (points allowed per 100 possessions) improved dramatically, from 127.8 in Game 1 to 99.3 in Game 2.
“I think you just try to throw them off rhythm. … It’s a pester, it’s an annoyance,” Kelly Olynyk said. “In the grand scheme, it’s not really doing much, but it’s doing a lot. It’s one of those things where, when you’re that guy who’s getting pestered, you kind of get like, ‘Enough of that.’ It was big.”
Dario Saric, JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli – the Sixers’ three biggest threats from long distance – had half as many threes (6) in Game 2 but took six more shots (25).
“I just think we made it tough on them,” Josh Richardson said. “We let them get wherever they wanted last game and if you let them do that, they’re just going to punish you. We took it upon ourselves the last few days just to come out tougher and make it hard on them.”
The difference was the defense on 20-year-old point guard Ben Simmons, one of the most unique players in the league. Simmons put up big numbers but had nowhere near the impact he had in Game 1.
With Richardson, James Johnson and Justise Winslow all taking turns guarding Simmons, the 6-foot-10 rookie finished with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. He had 17 points and nine rebound in Game 1, but 14 assists. The Heat pressured Simmons and were physical with him for all 94-feet, which resulted in doing did a better job of keeping Simmons from the paint.
The best example was the 7-foot Whiteside fouling Simmons early in the second half while pressuring him under the Heat basket. While it was Whiteside’s fourth foul and sent him to the bench for the rest of the game, Whiteside said coach Erik Spoelstra applauded as he came to the sideline because of his aggressiveness.
“Simmons can overpower you,” Spoelstra said. “It’s a unique blend of absolute power, speed and size. You have to have a roster and some personnel where you can throw different guys because he’s going to go through guys and put foul trouble on you, collapse the defense and eat your rotations.”
Winslow was singled out above the rest for the job he did on Simmons. The 6-7 swingman was physical and emotional. Winslow was one of the few Heat players who played well in Game 1.
“He got us all motivated,” Johnson said of Winslow. “He got us inspired. He just gave. He just gave, gave, gave. He didn’t want nothing in return. He took his open shots, but other than that he was playing solid defense.”
Both teams know this series is far from over, but if the sixth-seeded Heat have any chance of pulling off the upset on the No. 3-seeded Sixers, their defense will have to resemble what went down in Game 2 much more than Game 1.
“They responded as we talked about, as I anticipated,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “I give the Miami Heat credit in relation to the physicality of that game. I think their ball pressure and standing up our passes was excellent.”