The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t wait around until the fourth quarter to stick it to the Miami Heat this time.
They did it in the third quarter and now the Heat is headed home for the rest of the summer.
Behind 27 points from J.J. Redick, 19 points and 12 rebounds from All-Star center Joel Embiid and 14 points, 10 rebounds and six assists from rookie Ben Simmons, Philadelphia completed a first round playoff series victory in only five games over Miami with a 104-91 victory Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
And despite the disappointment, there was an understanding on the way out the door the Heat got beat by a more talented team.
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"You can lose with effort. You can lose to a better team. That’s what they were. That’s what they are," Dwyane Wade said. "There’s no secret about that. I thought we did our job. We had some moments we would love to have back, but ultimately we played with the effort that we needed to. They just have more than us.”
Heat coach Erik Spoelstra agreed.
"To get knocked out of the playoffs, whether its the later rounds or not, it never ends well," Spoelstra said. "But, it doesn't take away from the experiences we had for six months. I would like to start by just congratulating Philly. Brett Brown and his staff and the players they played very good basketball. They clearly deserved to move on. But they've done it the right way, built it very steady, haven't skipped any steps. You're seeing the benefits of gradual, incremental work behind the scenes. It's a very good team. It's always tough to lose but they played extremely well."
Tied at 46 at the half, Philadelphia outscored Miami 34-20 in the third period and coasted to the series clinching victory despite shooting 42 percent from the field and making only 7 of 28 from three-point range.
Miami trimmed Philly’s 18-point second half lead to 95-87 with 2:57 remaining on a Wayne Ellington three-pointer, but got no closer.
It was the Sixers’ first playoff series victory since it upset the top-seeded Chicago Bulls in the 2012 playoffs and the first time the Heat has been bounced in the first round since it lost to the Boston Celtics in 2010. The following summer, Pat Riley signed LeBron James and Chris Bosh and formed the Big 3 with Wade. Two championships and four trips to the Finals followed.
The Heat is clearly in a different spot now.
With no cap space this coming summer, Riley, 73, is going to have to be a lot more creative to reconstruct the Heat’s roster if he so chooses. There are challenges with Tyler Johnson’s back-loaded contract which will jump from $6 to $19 million and the max deal Hassan Whiteside is being paid. Both Johnson and Whiteside have two seasons left on their contracts.
Whiteside, who struggled to make much of an impact in Games 1-3 before tallying 13 points and 13 rebounds in Game 4, finished with two points and five rebounds, hardly the kind of impact a player making nearly $24 million this season should be delivering. And he wasn't happy about the fact he played a series-low 10 minutes.
"At least give me a chance to fight," Whiteside said. "I can understand if I was playing 30 minutes and I played bad. At least give me a chance."
The problem for the Heat Tuesday was Whiteside was hardly alone in his struggles.
Miami shot 38.6 percent from the field and finished 10 of 35 from three-point range. Miami’s starters combined for 37 points in all.
All-Star point guard Goran Dragic had 15 points, but was 6 of 16 from the field and picked up a technical foul in the first half when he slapped Simmons in the back of the head.
Forward James Johnson, who signed a four-year, $60 million deal last summer and played well in the series until Tuesday, finished with four points (2 of 5 shooting), five rebounds and five assists in 32 minutes and also was called for a technical in the fourth quarter.
Starting small forward Josh Richardson, who sprained the AC joint in his left shoulder diving for a loose ball in Game 4, was scoreless in only seven minutes of action because of foul trouble.
"I would say in the second half it felt like the majority of our fourth quarters versus Philadephia," Spoelstra said. "Each one of the games, except for Game 2, 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."
Wade, who led the Heat to a Game 2 win in Philadelphia with a franchise-playoff record 28 points off the bench, made his first two shots Tuesday, but finished 4 of 15 from the field for 11 points. Now, we will have wait to see if at age 36 he chooses to return to continue his Hall of Fame career after 15 seasons, three championships and 12 All-Star appearances.
"I don't even want to go there," Spoelstra said. "You're going to make me emotional if we start to think about that or talk about that right now."
Wade said the decision will carry over into the summer.
"This is Philly and I love Philly," he said with a smile. "But there ain’t gonna be no breaking news here."
▪ Tyler Johnson, 25, had his best game of the series Tuesday, finishing with 16 points (7 of 11 shooting from the field) before fouling out with 4:53 to play. Kelly Olynyk led the heat with 18 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
▪ Justise Winslow, one of the more pleasant surprises for the Heat in the series, once again provided grit and hustle on the defensive end. He had 12 points and seven rebounds.
▪ The Heat, which struggled at the free throw line and denying Philadelphia offensive rebounds in Game 4, finished 13 of 22 at the line and allowed the Sixers to grab only nine offensive rebounds. The bigger problem Tuesday for Miami was generating offense.
▪ The Heat and Sixers went into the half tied at 46. Both teams shot under 40 percent over the first two quarters. Miami’s entire starting frontcourt went scoreless over that stretch. Whiteside scored the first points for a Heat frontcourt player with a pair of free throws with 8:30 left in the third quarter.
▪ Before the game, the Philly faithful roared with excitement when hometown rapper Meek Mill, released from jail on Tuesday afternoon, rang the Liberty Bell during a pregame ceremony. Among other Philly natives to make an appearance at Tuesday’s game: Villanova’s NCAA championship men’s basketball team, Super Bowl winning Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, retired boxer Bernard Hopkins and comedian Kevin Hart.
▪ The Sixers will face the winner of the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks in Round 2.