MIAMI – The Heat’s Dwyane Wade knew what to expect when Philadelphia’s Justin Anderson, who had played about a minute and a half in the first two games of the series, came off the bench.
“He came into the game to be a tough guy,” Wade said. “So, the refs didn’t do nothing about it so I did.”
Anderson was in the game 94 seconds when he and Wade tangled, Wade grabbed Anderson’s right wrist and Anderson swung his left fist connecting with the back of Wade’s head.
Both players were hit with technical fouls, the first of three sets of double technicals that would be called in one of the more physical Heat games in recent memory.
“They hit us in Game (2),” said the 6-foot-6, 230-pound Anderson, whose role was compared to a hockey enforcer after Wade’s 28-point performance in Game 2.
“They were physical from the start. I’m appreciative and take whatever opportunity that I am given. After watching the first two games from the bench, I have recognized the physicality is real high and I just mentally prepared myself for that if I go in.
“I have to hit first or else they’re going to hit me.”
The Sixers responded, out-muscling the Heat in a 128-108 victory, taking a 2-1 lead in this best-of-seven opening-round series and regaining homecourt advantage. The game was a throwback to the 1990s when Heat-Knicks series saw bodies flying all over the court, but with about 80 more points on the board. Miami and New York played 24 postseason games from the 1996-97 season to 1999-00, and just twice were there more fouls called than the 56 between the Heat and Sixers on Thursday and once were there more than the 72 free throws that were taken on Thursday.
The combined fouls equals the season high for a Heat game this season and the free throws is the most in any game.
“It was pretty physical both ways,” said Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, who team was whistled for a season-high 30 fouls, 10 of those drawn by Sixers center Joel Embiid, who was playing for the first time in the series. Embiid missed the 10 previous games (eight regular season) after suffering a fractured orbital bone.
Sixers point guard Ben Simmons heard for 72 hours how the Heat’s blueprint to slow him down is to bump and bang him, the entire 94 feet if necessary. Justise Winslow was his main antagonist in Miami’s Game 2 victory, at times frustrating Simmons, who was not as impactful in that game as he was in Philadelphia’s Game 1 victory despite an impressive stat line.
Simmons, who at 6-10, 230, attacks the rim mainly because of his poor outside shot, welcomes that type of play.
“I love it when guys are trying to throw elbows or whatever it is,” he said. “Being from Australia, I played Australian football, so I’m used to it. It makes me play better.”
Wade and Covington started the double-technical trend. Later in the second quarter James Johnson and Simmons were chirping and each received a technical. In the third quarter Marco Belinelli intentionally fouled Goran Dragic, who made the shot and then flexed in Belinelli’s face, drawing technical fouls.
“I was proud of our team as we accepted the physicality in a way that was technically fundamental,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
The Sixers did more than accept the Heat’s physical play. They punched back and still played their game. For the second time in the series the Sixers had 18 3-pointers and shot better than 50 percent from long distance.
“We don’t want to be in shootouts with this team, so we got to find ways to be more physical and control their shooters and their scoring,” Winslow said. “I think for three quarters, we did a good job.”
Philadelphia led by two entering the fourth quarter before outscoring Miami, 32-14, in the final 12 minutes.
And according to Wade, do not expect anything different than an old fashioned Eastern Conference postseason throwdown moving forward. Game 3 is set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday at AmericanAirlines Arena.
“It’s the playoffs, baby,” Wade said. “I wish the whistle didn’t blow as much as it did. We’re fine with it. Let it go, man. Nobody wants to get into fights. But there’s going to be some body-on-body. There’s going to be some man-on-man combat in this series.
“This is what competitors love to play in. The physicality doesn’t matter. We want them to be physical and we’re going to be physical.”