PHILADELPHIA – The Miami Heat entered the postseason as the No. 6 seed believing they had a chance against the youthful, upstart and No. 3-seeded Philadelphia 76ers because of their experience.
But it was the 76ers and their mixture of rising young stars and savvy veterans that dominated this series.
That 76ers broke open a close game early in the third quarter and defeated the Heat, 104-91, Tuesday at the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia, playing in its first postseason in six years, advances to the Eastern Conference semifinals to face the winner of the series between No. 2 Boston and No. 7 Milwaukee. Boston leads the series, 3-2.
The Sixers, who at one point would have just been happy to make the playoffs this season, now have set their sights on the NBA Finals.
“You can lose with effort, you lose to a better team and that’s what they are,” Dwyane Wade said. “We did our job. They have more than us.”
After being eliminated in five games, the Heat now face an uncertain future.
“To get knocked out of the playoffs, whether it’s the later rounds or not, it never ends well,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. “But, it doesn’t take away from the experiences we had for six months.”
The Sixers, who have won 20-of-21 games, including entering the postseason on a 16-game winning streak, won this series without ever leading at the half. Miami had the lead after the first 24 minutes in each of the first four games and Game 5 was tied at 46 at the half.
But Philadelphia decided not to wait for the fourth quarter in this game and ended the Heat’s season in the third quarter when it outscored Miami 34-20 to take an 80-66 lead in the final 12 minutes.
The Heat cut the lead to eight with a 10-0 run but never really put a scare into the Sixers.
The Heat were led by Kelly Olynyk’s 18 points. Tyler Johnson added 16 before fouling out.
JJ Redick had 27 for Philadelphia.
Here are our five takeaways:
What’s next?: Making the playoffs was a step forward, but being eliminated in five games wasn’t what president Pat Riley envisioned. Now, Riley and general manager Andy Elisburg must get creative if they are to improve this roster. Miami is committed to nearly $120 million in contracts next season, about $20 million over the cap. The only way the Heat becomes a legitimate contender is through trades to either dump enough salary to become a player in free agency or acquire a star to move up in a weak Eastern Conference.
“It feels like we accomplished what we wanted to by making the playoffs but there’s not satisfying feeling when you lose,” James Johnson said. “It’s a tough one but it’s motivation.”
Fourth quarter doesn’t matter: Miami did not have to wait until the fourth quarter to let this game slip away. The Heat entered Game 5 having been outscored 127-85 in the fourth quarter in this series and led in the final quarter in both games at home before giving both away. The final game of the season was lost in third quarter when the Sixers outscored Miami, 34-20, and turned a 48-46 deficit early in the quarter into a nine-point lead with an 11-0 run. The Sixers pushed the lead to 18 points in the final minutes of the quarter. Philadelphia shot 12 of 24 in the quarter while the Heat shot 7 of 22.
“The second half it felt like the majority of our fourth quarters versus Philadelphia,” Spoelstra said. “Each one of the games … they stepped up their defense in the fourth quarter. It was tough for us to generate good clean offense or at least getting the ball where we wanted it to go to and executing with some level of coherency. But you have to credit them. They have very good length. They have a consistently well coached, well drilled big in the paint that can fill in the gaps in a lot of different areas. So, I would say as their offense has gotten better during the course of the season their defense was already pretty darn good.”
Is this it for Dwyane Wade?: Dwyane Wade did not want to discuss the possibility that this could be his final season after Game 4, but the questions will start coming much more frequently now that his 15th season is in the books. Wade, though, likely will not make that decision for months as he waits to see what direction the team goes and decides if he wants to put in the work it takes to prepare for an NBA season. Wade, 36, was solid after being reacquired by the Heat at the Feb. 8 trade deadline and enjoyed his role as the leader of the Heat’s second unit. He continued to produce in the playoffs with two games of at least 25 points and finishing as the Heat’s second-leading scorer behind Goran Dragic. Wade finished the game with 11 points but shot just 4 of 15.
“Y’all know I’ve given it thought,” Wade said. “This is Philly and I love Philly, but there isn’t going be breaking news here. I appreciate y’all’s concern, but we’ll worry about that later. I’m not gonna break nothing here.”
Starting five struggles: The Heat’s starters entered Game 5 with a minus-13 in this series, tied for the worst plus-minus of any five-man group on the team. And it wasn’t much better in Game 5 as the starters were outscored by 12 while on the floor. The Heat trailed 8-3 after Josh Richardson was called for his second foul just 91 seconds into the game and replaced by Rodney McGruder. Hassan Whiteside also got into early foul trouble leading to heavy minutes by the bench. Richardson, Whiteside and James Johnson, 60 percent of the starting lineup, all were scoreless in the first half and finished the game with six points, with Richardson going scoreless. In the second half, the starters were a minus-7 when Bam Adebayo replaced Whiteside.
“They know what to take away, every possession they take away your strength and you can see they have a lot of guys who can play multiple positions especially defensively they’re switching a lot so it’s really tough to get those triggers for us,” Dragic.
Heat continued to get beat on the boards: The Heat were dominated by the Sixers on the glass the entire series. Philadelphia owned a 197-165 edge on the boards in the first four games, including outrebounding Miami, 57-43, in Game 4 and Game 5 was no different. The Sixers ended the game with a 53-40 edge on the glass, including a 15-9 advantage in the decisive third quarter. The Sixers led the league in rebounding during the regular season.