MIAMI — Dwyane Wade’s confidence in himself to rally his team, whether it be in a game or a playoff series, will always be absolute.
But after the Heat’s frustrating 106-102 loss to the 76ers on Saturday — their second straight at home — dropped them into a 3-1 series hole, Wade didn’t mince words when asked if his veteran guile still gives the Heat an advantage over the upstart squad from Philadelphia.
“I’d rather be in their position, I’ll tell you that, figuring out how to close out 3-1,” Wade said after his 25-point performance nearly lifted the Heat back to victory after they let a double-digit, late-third-quarter lead slip away. “From our standpoint it’s going to be hard. It’s going to be one of the hardest things we’ve tried to accomplish as a team to try to bring it back here to Miami, and we gotta understand that.
“We gotta go in and put our hard hats on and go after it. We can’t worry about them. They’re in a good position. We’re the ones trying to come from behind. So we’ll see what happens Tuesday.”
The Heat, despite coming from 3-1 down to win a playoff series only once in franchise history, are not finished in this first-round, Eastern Conference series. Simple math proves that.
But they will be finished after Tuesday night’s Game 5 back in Philly if they don’t find a way to finish.
Like finishing at the basket. Miami in Game 3 was 25-for-46 on shots at the rim, missing layups and short jumpers, many on shots intimidated by Philadelphia’s 7-foot, 260-pound center Joel Embiid, who officially was credited with five blocks and whose rim protection “won us the game,” 76ers coach Brett Brown said.
Like finishing at the free-throw line. Coach Erik Spoelstra didn’t mask his feelings after Saturday’s loss. The Heat let one get away, partly by missing nearly half of their foul shots, going 13-for-25 from the line.
Like finishing defensive possessions. Miami has been crushed on the glass in the series (and was outrebounded 57-43 in Game 4), but the 76ers have done particular damage with offensive rebounds at crucial times to score on putbacks or by kicking them out for 3-pointers.
But, mostly, the Heat have to get better at finishing games — or their season will be finished after one more.
For the third straight contest the Heat allowed Philadelphia to go on a scoring blitz in the fourth quarter. In Game 3, the 76ers turned a two-point game into a cruise by outscoring Miami 32-14 in the final 12 minutes. Had Wade’s heroics not saved the Heat after their 16-point lead was cut to 2 in the fourth quarter of Game 2, the series would already be over.
On Saturday, Miami led 81-71 with 3:09 to play in the third quarter. From there, the 76ers went on a 21-4 run, bolstered by missed shots close to the basket, blown defensive assignments and poor rebounding by Miami. Wade scored seven straight points as Miami cut a seven-point deficit to one in the closing seconds, but he also missed a crucial free throw in the final seconds. Miami also let 76ers rookie guard Ben Simmons barrel down the lane uncontested for a two-handed dunk and on Philadelphia’s next possession left J.J. Redick, one of the NBA’s best shooters, all alone for an easy jumper.
“It was one of those moments where, for me, I just wanted us to get a stop or two,” Wade said. “I felt like I could win us one at home. We couldn’t get it. We made some mistakes down in the end. They made us pay. … Whether it’s getting offensive rebounds or miscommunications, we had to do a better job.”
The series has been physical, fast, fun and highly competitive. Neither team is acting like it’s a 3-1 series.
“We are going to Philadelphia looking forward to playing for an amazing home-court advantage,” said Brown, who said his team probably had “no right winning” Saturday’s game after how sloppily it played the first three quarters and finishing with 27 turnovers. “We are going to come in, bunker down and try to get better. We sure hope that equals a win.”
His young, talented point guard echoed the sentiment. “We have to finish it,” Simmons said. “We have to be locked in for that game coming up.”
Spoelstra knows his team has to finish or be finished.
“We all feel that we’re this close, and that’s what makes this game tough,” Spoelstra said. “We’ve had a tough time finishing games against Philadelphia, and that’s been the issue.”