MIAMI – The Process will prevail.
No, it’s not over. But does anybody really believe the Miami Heat can win three straight games against this young, talented Philadelphia team? Especially when the opportunity was there to tie up this series before Miami melted down at home in the fourth quarter for the second straight game?
The Heat trail 3-1 in this opening-round series after a second straight loss at home, this one by a much closer count of 106-102, which makes this even more maddening for the Heat.
The Heat saw their chance to make this a series disappear in a 19-1 Philadelphia run that spanned the end of the third quarter and into the fourth, turning a Sixers 10-point deficit into a four-point lead.
Now, Miami must do something it has done once in its history – overcome a 3-1 deficit to win a series. And that only happened because of a brawl that resulted in half the Knicks team being suspended over the final two games of that 1997 Eastern Conference semifinal after a brawl in Game 5.
“It’s going to be one of the toughest thing we try to accomplish as a team is to try to bring it back here to Miami,” Dwyane Wade said.
This game was decided by the Heat’s lack of focus, and this starless team is not good enough to lose focus and win a game. Not against the Sixers and not against anybody, as we have seen now for 86 games.
The Heat barely made half their free throws (13 of 25), including missing 3-of-5 in the final 2:37.
Make 72 percent and they win the game.
But more disappointing were the breakdowns in the final minutes.
It started when the Heat rolled out the red carpet for Ben Simmons, giving the versatile point guard a clear path to the basket and an easy dunk. … with the Heat trailing by one.
The Heat again cut it to one with Wade putting the team on his shoulders, again, this time with 25 points. But this time it was JJ Redick, one the best shooters in recent history, who was left wide open on the right baseline for an easy jumper.
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra, though disappointed with these breakdowns, wasn’t about to blame his defense. In fact, Spoelstra’s tone after the loss was very calm and collected, not wanting to put his team on edge with the Sixers still needing one game to close out the series.
“This team has a lot of different triggers you have to deal with,” Spoelstra said. “It’s not as if you can just focus on one guy. It’s not necessarily just a complete breakdown, that’s what this team does.”
But the biggest brain cramp occurred with 17.6 seconds to play. With Wade at the foul line, Josh Richardson stood at 3-point line, his head down, allowing Redick to charge to the basket like a free safety on a blitz to collect the rebound. Reddick was untouched, until he secured the ball. And then he was fouled sending a 90-percent free throw shooter to the line with his team leading by two.
Game – season – over.
And the Sixers did all they could to give away this game with 27 turnovers leading to 30 Heat points.
“The fact that you can actually win a playoff game with this volume of turnovers is mind-boggling,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said.
“I’m shocked that we won this game. We really didn’t have a right to win this game.”
But should he be? This is an atypically mature, poised team whose two best players – and the two best players in this series – are rookies who never have tasted the intensity of the playoffs.
Yet, it’s that team, it’s Simmons and Joel Embiid and Dario Saric and the other young Sixers who showed the poise down the stretch.
“They’re special,” Wade said. “They put the right team together. Sometimes the playoffs become too big for certain guys. Sometimes you can’t match that intensity. They play that way already. They play with an intense level.”
Now, the season is on brink. One more loss and an offseason of soul searching and plenty of questions ranging from the futures of Wade (will he retire) and Hassan Whiteside (will he be traded).
But while that task appears insurmountable going back to a crazed fanbase that has not tasted the playoffs in six seasons, the Heat certainly are thinking that way.
But the reality says something else.