Five takeaways from Monday night’s 113-103 Miami Heat victory over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2 of their first-round playoff series:
1. The Heat’s aggressive, physical approach on defense changed the entire tenor of the series.
After making 18 three-pointers and scoring 130 points in Game 1 (both Heat records for a playoff game), the Sixers found it a lot tougher to maneuver in Game 2, with Miami applying full-court pressure at various points. Although the Heat picked up a couple of overly aggressive defensive fouls about 92 feet away from the basket, coach Erik Spoelstra wanted to send a message and delivered it.
The Heat got its hands on a lot more balls defensively with 27 deflections (Kelly Olynyk 7, James Johnson 7, Josh Richardson 6, Dwyane Wade 5, Tyler Johnson 2). The Heat had only four deflections in Game 1.
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The Sixers did find space to shoot at times in Game 2, but didn't make their uncontested shots this time around. As a team, the Sixers were 16 of 53 on uncontested shots (30.2 percent). Dario Saric was 6 of 15 on uncontested shots, JJ Redick was 1 of 9, Marco Belinelli was 3 of 10, Ersan Ilyasova was 2 of 4 and Robert Covington was 2 of 7.
“We just made sure to pressure more on the guys who are passing the ball to their shooters, Ben Simmons, Covington," Heat guard Goran Dragic said. "Because the first game, we were backing off and it’s an easy read to make those passes. And now, we kind of pressured them and try for them to miss the moment. That’s really important for us, because J.J. Reddick, Belinelli, they’re really great catch-and-go shooters. We did everything possible to disturb it.”
Said Olynyk: “I think you just try to throw them off rhythm. … It’s a pester, it’s an annoyance. In the grand scheme, it’s not really doing much, but it’s doing a lot. It’s one of those things where, when you’re that guy who’s getting pestered, you kind of get like, ‘Enough of that.’ It was big.”
In Game 1, Philadelphia was 26 of 46 on uncontested shots. Belinelli was 6 of 11, Redick was 6 of 10, Saric 6 of 8, Ilyasova 3 of 5 and Covington 3 of 6.
“It terms of their schemes, they didn't change a whole lot,” Redick said. “Again, I think the biggest was how they approached their defensive end. So sagging off the paint they were pressuring full court basically. Other than that, it was just being more physical all around with our bigs. We had trouble just getting into plays sometimes and we'll adjust. That was our expectation anyway. Give them credit for executing a great game plan.”
2. Joel Embiid’s return feels imminent.
Not long after the game, the All-Star center went on Instagram and expressed displeasure about missing his ninth consecutive game following an orbital bone fracture on March 28.
“[Expletive] sick and tired of being babied," he wrote.
The Sixers still have not cleared Embiid for contact work, but he has had conversation with coach Brett Brown about getting back on the floor.
“Without getting into private conversations, the flavor he delivers our conversations, our private conversations, he just wants to play basketball,” Brown said shortly after being alerted to Embiid’s social media post. “He just wants to be with his team. He wants to play in front of the fans and he wants to see this through, and when he's not able to do that he gets frustrated. And I respect his frustration. It's borne out of competitiveness and it's born out of him wanting to be with his team. And so the medical side, the different reasons, I'm not going to go there. But I do know the spirit that he delivers that Tweet that you just talked about reflects my conversations with him that is completely driven out of team, competitiveness, I want to play basketball, that type of flavor more than anything."
Spoelstra said he expects Embiid back for Game 3, and the team has been game-planning for him since the start of the series.
“It would be irresponsible if we didn't,” he said.
3. Hassan Whiteside played a more inspired brand of basketball and made his coach happy.
After playing only 12 minutes in Game 1, Whiteside played only 15 in Game 2 and finished with four points, five rebounds and a block. That’s hardly the kind of impact you want from your highest-paid player in a pivotal playoff game. But Spoelstra seemed to be happy.
“His activity level was superb,” Spoelstra said. “Without those 15 minutes it might have been totally different. Those were much needed. He got that fourth foul, and I had the intention to put him back in the fourth. We just didn't get around to it when they made their run. They went even smaller, but we can definitely build on that.”
4. Dragic bounced back from his rough shooting night in Game 1 and had 20 points on 8-of-14 shooting and four rebounds, three assists in 25 foul-plagued minutes.
Dragic was 0 for 7 in Game 1 in the 35 combined possessions he was guarded by Robert Covington (22 possessions) and Marco Belinelli (13). In Game 2, Dragic was 5 of 7 against Covington in 26 possessions and the Heat scored 34 points as a team in that matchup.
“We were really happy with our performance,” Dragic said. “… We stole one, now we have to take care of business at home.”
5. Ben Simmons still got his (24 points, nine rebounds, eight assists in 39 minutes), but it felt like he had to work a lot harder for it.
Of the 17 shots Simmons took in Game 2, 12 were contested and he made eight of them. James Johnson covered Simmons for 45 possessions (57.7 percent of the time). Simmons was 6 of 10 from the field against him and scored 15 points.
Justise Winslow guarded Simmons on nine possesions. Simmons didn't score on him and took only one shot. The Sixers scored only seven points when Winslow was guarding Simmons.
“Simmons can overpower you,” Spoelstra said. “It's a unique blend of absolute power, speed and size. You have to have a roster and some personnel where you can throw different guys because he's going to go through guys and put foul trouble on you, collapse the defense and beat your rotations. It's hard to imagine he's 20 years old. But Justise is a competitor. He was probably the one positive from Game 1, how he put his competitive will on that game and he carried it over.”