PHILADELPHIA — Perhaps the highest compliment 76ers coach Brett Brown can give Dwyane Wade is that he eagerly awaits his retirement.
A few months past his 36th birthday, Wade’s been a big factor for the Heat in this first-round playoff series with 18 points on 49.1 percent shooting off the bench in the first four games. He was especially good in Game 2, when he propelled Miami to its only victory so far by pouring in 28 points in 25 minutes.
“I’m always blown away by Dwyane Wade,” said Brown, a longtime assistant for San Antonio who coached against him in The Finals in 2013. “I look at Manu (Ginobili) the other night and all the ridiculous stuff, and you look at what Dwyane is doing here and you think, ‘When are they done? When are they done?’ They just seem never to go away.
“There’s a pace and poise that he plays with and his presence and his class. He just is somebody that I incredibly respect.”
Wade, who is finishing up his 15th season, has not said whether he plans to return for 2018-19.
CAMDEN, N.J. — 76ers center Joel Embiid has had plenty working against him as he tries to settle into this first-round playoff series against the Heat, and he’s only halfway toward playing like his usual all-star self.
As if his first foray into the postseason isn’t enough of an awakening, he’s been simultaneously trying to regain his rhythm after being out almost three weeks and adjusting to a cumbersome protective mask that covers pretty much everything but his mouth.
The thought that Embiid could snap back into his normal self at any moment is concerning for a Miami team that trails 3-1 heading into Tuesday’s Game 5 at Wells Fargo Center.
He’s played two games, and while his defense was impressive, the Heat know they haven’t seen the best of him offensively yet. He’s averaged 18.5 points, 2.5 assists and 5.5 turnovers while shooting 31.8 percent.
“The difference of Joel Embiid offensively versus Joel Embiid defensively is night and day,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said today. “He is unbelievable at the rim (defensively). That’s energy and activity, just a committed physical, aggressive player. Those qualities don’t equal a poised offensive player. It’s not his fault.”
“Playing basketball, regaining his core balance and all those things, that will happen over time.”
He was still a factor in his first two games with totals of 19 rebounds and eight blocked shots. The Heat were repeatedly frustrated by his defense in Game 4 and have shot 3 for 15 against him within 6′ of the basket since he entered the series.
Embiid and the 76ers haven’t been harping on the mask as an excuse, but it’s undeniably hampering his peripheral vision. Brown believes it was a big factor in him committing eight turnovers Saturday. Teammates Markelle Fultz and Amir Johnson tried out the mask after today’s practice and quickly saw how restrictive it is.
Embiid, who has to wear it because he broke an orbital bone during a game in late March, is doing his best to acclimate and not allow it to become a mental issue in which he blames every shortfall on it.
“That can’t be an excuse,” he said. “I have to get used to it. That’s the only way I can be on the court, so I’ve just gotta do it. I don’t think there’s anything you can do about it. Some days it’s gonna work out well, some other days not.”
The 30 minutes he logged in Game 3 was his most extensive playing time since March 19, and he didn’t respond physically the way he’d hoped. That likely affected him Saturday, and it helps that the teams have an extra day off before the series resumes in Philadelphia.
“My body was hurting all over the place,” Embiid said. “Going into (Game 4), it was really bad. But it’s basketball. I’m the type of guy where it doesn’t matter how I’m feeling. If you put me on the basketball court I just forget everything. You’ve just gotta do it.”
In the regular season, his first full one since Philadelphia drafted him third overall in 2014, he showed exceptional skill for a player who stands skilled player he is for someone who’s 7-foot, 260 pounds. He’s a remarkable matchup nightmare for almost every team.
Embiid averaged 22.9 points, 11 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.8 blocks while shooting 48.3 percent from the field and 30.8 on 3-pointers. That’s the potential all-around impact he can have, whether it be against Miami or perhaps later in the playoffs, and the 76ers will be much more fearsome once he gets back to it.
“It’s part of the complete belief, when I look at our team versus other teams, that I think we can continue to improve,” Brown said. “I really see tremendous improvement possibilities in general with our team, and certainly by Joel playing more basketball.”
CAMDEN, N.J. — The first-round playoff series between the Heat and 76ers feels more contentious to the players than it’s actually been. Philadelphia has a 3-1 lead after sweeping two games in Miami and can win its first postseason series since in six years by taking Game 5 on Tuesday.
The 76ers’ victories in Games 1 and 3 came by a total of 47 points, though they were interrupted by Dwyane Wade leading Miami to a 113-103 win in between. Game 4 saw the Heat lead by as many as 12 in the third quarter before Philadelphia zeroed in to overtake them 106-102.
Now that they seem to know exactly what they’re getting from each other, the next game promises to be a compelling fight.
“At the start of the series you’re throwing jabs,” guard J.J. Redick said. “Why are boxing analogies just so perfect for every other sport? You’re throwing jabs and feeling each other out, then later on in the series you have to deliver a crushing blow.
“You have to finish them. A team like Miami, their culture and organization and their group of guys, they have fighters and warriors on their team. Every game in the series has been tough. There’s no expectation that Game 5 will be any different.”
The Heat have quite a bit of playoff experience up and down their roster, but Philadelphia is learning on the fly. Redick is the only starter who’s been to the postseason before this year. Its best two players, Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid, haven’t even logged 100 regular-season games yet.
For coach Brett Brown, who spent more than a decade with the Spurs, the leadup to the playoffs and this series have been full of lessons for his young team. He believes the 76ers are still trying to get accustomed to playoff basketball, particularly the way defenses typically play much more attentively, and still haven’t peaked.
“We have as much room for growth as anybody,” he said. “I look at that as a really exciting opportunity.
“You sort of go through college and then here we are in grad school, if you will, and we have a chance to learn a lot more. And we need to.”
Brown used the Game 4 win as an illustration for his players to see the Heat knocked them out of rhythm at both ends of floor in the first three quarters.
At that point, the Sixers had committed 24 turnovers on offense and allowed Miami to shoot 46.5 percent. They took control like a veteran team, however, with a 27-19 fourth quarter in which they turned the ball over just three times and held the Heat to 8-for-23 shooting.
Doing something like that on the road is a key breakthrough for a team that aspires to be a perennial contender. Their next graduation requirement is fighting off the desperation they’ll encounter from the Heat in an elimination game.
Redick’s rhetoric about delivering “a crushing blow” isn’t exactly how Brown wants his team thinking.
“You can make it too hard,” Brown said. “Everybody’s trying to break somebody’s spirit. It’s always the same thing.
“It happens on the other side of it. I know (Erik Spoelstra) will be in his locker room saying, ‘All we gotta do is win a game and come home.’ They’re gonna live in a really isolated, zoomed-in world of, ‘Let’s just win a game. We won a game last time we were here. Just come home and figure it out.’”
CAMDEN, N.J. — There’s a feeling among the 76ers that they were fortunate to escape Miami with a narrow victory in Game 4 of this first-round playoff series. It’s not that they were lucky, necessarily, but more so a sense that it’ll be nearly impossible to duplicate a performance in which they overcame an absurd 27 turnovers.
There’s a simple remedy for sloppy basketball, as Philadelphia coach Brett Brown explained before practice today.
“You can walk it up the floor and you can have your two best players play slow and play conservative,” Brown said, droning on so monotonously that he seemed bored by his own voice. Then he paused and added, “And we’re not doing it.”
The 76ers are looking to knock out the Heat on Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Center, and they’ll try to do it with the same hastened pace that’s made their offense a challenge to contain throughout the series.
They were the first team since 1986 to win a postseason game despite having that many turnovers, and they’d like to clean that up, but not at the expense of changing who they are.
“It’s the slippery slope we live,” Brown said. “We want to play fast and we want to play free and we want to share the ball.”
He needs his stars to tighten up in order to get the offense clicking again.
All-star center Joel Embiid, who had been out since late March with an orbital fracture and concussion prior to his debut in Game 3, had eight of those turnovers, which Brown attributed to obstructed vision from the protective mask he wore and the difficulty of regaining his rhythm after the layoff.
Ben Simmons, the best player for either team in the series, also had seven turnovers.
The 76ers overcame those issues, which left them down 12 in the third quarter, by locking down defensively in the fourth, when they also limited their turnovers to three and turned seven offensive rebounds into seven second-chance points. They outscored Miami 33-19 over the final 13 minutes.
Philadelphia has averaged almost 117 points per game in this series, posted an offensive efficiency of 111.7 and made more 3-pointers (50) than any other team in the playoffs. They’ve shown some of the league’s best flow and ball circulation on offense, which has helped them have four players averaging at least 18 points per game against Miami.
The outlier was the Heat’s 113-103 victory in Game 2, which featured a memorable performance by Dwyane Wade with 28 points. While Wade’s heroics are the lasting image of that night for most who saw it, the more important point might be what Miami did defensively.
The Heat were highly disruptive that night with an old-school, bullying defense that kept Philadelphia from getting to its game. The 76ers shot 41.7 percent, a dip from the 46.9 they’ve hit otherwise. They actually controlled the ball decently in that game and committed a tolerable 14 turnovers.
It’s worth noting that they didn’t have Embiid then, but the overall feel is what Brown anticipates in Game 5.
“Think about their last memory — Their last memory here was winning, and they did it with a certain style,” Brown said. “We get it. You don’t have to be a wise man to know what is about to happen, what style of play they’re going to try to play, especially when they’re gonna go home if they’re not able to find a win.”
Their fear, though, is that a continuation of their careless offense from Saturday combined with what should be a tenacious effort from a Heat team facing elimination will extend the series.
“We realize that having that many turnovers in a playoff game is a recipe for disaster,” guard J.J. Redick said. “We have to be a lot better there.”
“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.
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.”
Erin Popovich, 67, had been battling an illness for an extended period. The couple was married for four decades.
“It’s saddening news,” Spoelstra said. “It caught all of us by surprise and all you can do is send all your thoughts and prayers to the Popovich family. I can’t even imagine going through that. Four decades of marriage, that’s in itself is incredible. All of Heat nation and the entire NBA fraternity sends our thoughts.”
Dwyane Wade, who was on those Heat teams that split two Finals with the Spurs – Miami winning in 2013, San Antonio winning in 2014 – said he was with his wife, Gabrielle Union, and the two stopped to have “a moment of mourning (Erin) and praying for his family and hoping that this tough time they will push through together” even though Wade had never met Erin.
“A lot of guys around the league respect Coach Pop,” Wade said. “But when you hear news of anyone in this league dealing with anything from a standpoint of tragedy in their families, it always touches you, it always makes the world stop. It makes you have a moment to pray for them, for his family, because it’s a tough time.”
“I think LeBron (James) said it best – we all compete against each other in this league. But in some form, in some way, it’s a bond and brotherhood in the game of basketball for everybody. So, it’s a sad moment for the NBA whenever someone loses someone close to him, like Coach Pop did.”
Popovich, 69, has been a part of the Spurs organization for 30 years, taking over as head coach in 1992. Sixers coach Brett Brown worked for Popovich for more than a decade, most of those as an assistant.
“I’ve been with Pop a long time,” Brown said. “I’ve known Erin Popovich a long time. Their family is wonderful. Their family has been incredibly kind to my family. She was a star, like a real star, just a very strong woman. Somebody who will be missed.”
The Spurs announced today that Popovich will not coach tonight’s Game 3 of the Spurs first-round playoff series with the Warriors.
MIAMI — It looks like Joel Embiid’s playoff debut will come in Game 3.
After Sixers coach Brett Brown called Embiid doubtful before morning shootaround, the All-Star center was upgraded to probable just a few hours before Thursday night’s game against the Heat at AmericanAirlines Arena. Embiid missed the final eight games of the regular season and the first two games of the playoffs after undergoing surgery to repair an orbital bone fracture. Continue reading “Sixers All-Star center Joel Embiid upgraded to probable for Game 3 vs. Heat”