Five takeaways from the Heat’s 128-108 Game 3 loss to the 76ers, which leaves Philadelphia up two games to one in the series:
▪ After being thoroughly dominated by Joel Embiid, Heat center Hassan Whiteside did what he has a tendency to do – deflect blame elsewhere.
Asked to explain his least productive three-game stretch of the season, Whiteside essentially pointed to the Heat coaching staff for changing his role in the offense. He also again made clear he wants to play more, even though he was in foul trouble Thursday.
“It's just different, man,” Whiteside said on a night he closed with just five points and two rebounds and attempted only one shot (an alley-oop dunk from Dwyane Wade) in 13 foul-plagued minutes.
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“I feel like our offense is a lot different. I'm not as involved in as many dribble handoffs as I was and postups as I was in the regular season. That's what coach wants. Coach wants me to just be in the corner and set picks. That's what he wants. I've just got to trust it.”
But when Whiteside tried to post up in the fourth quarter, he was stripped off the ball.
Asked if he could do more in other areas such as rebounding, Whiteside said: “Yeah, I want to get more rebounds out there. I want to get more minutes out there. I'm just going to keep trusting coach decision making. Even with the fouls, I still could have been out there. I wouldn't have fouled out. I am going to keep trusting coach's decision making.”
Embiid, returning after missing 10 games with an orbital fracture near his left eye, had the clear advantage, outscoring Whiteside 23 to five and outrebounding him seven to two.
Embiid played 30 minutes, with Whiteside limited to 13 minutes.
Afterward, Whiteside offered an unsolicited commentary on how the 76ers use Embiid as a focal point in their offense – a minute after making the point about how little he’s used in the Heat’s offense.
“They run enough plays for him that he's going to get his numbers,” Whiteside said. “I don't really get caught up in that. He lives a big man's dream. He gets the ball, he gets the post up every other play. They pretty much run a lot of stuff through him and Ben Simmons. His shot attempts are going to be there.”
Said Josh Richardson: "Embiid was huge for them. He's a big emotional leader for them and they look up to him a lot. He had a great impact."
Before the game, Charles Barkley said this about Whiteside on TNT: "He isn't consistent at all. The Heat is better without him. There's a reason he's on the bench. A coach doesn't [bench someone] for the hell of it."
Shaquille O’Neal, who has a friendly relationship with Whiteside, disagreed. But the Heat has now been outscored by 93 points with Whiteside on the floor this season – worst on the team. And his meager totals in this series ( 11 points, 13 rebounds, 41 minutes ) represent by far his worst for a three-game stretch all season.
So what can Whiteside do to change this?
“I'm trying to figure that out right now,” he said. “I guess I just got to try to score on offensive rebounds maybe and keep running the floor and try to get alley oops but other than that it's a lot different, it's a lot different than the regular season.”
Whiteside picked up two fouls in the first 5:14 of the first quarter, left for a while, then picked up his third with 8:15 left in the second quarter. He departed immediately without even being credited with a shot attempt in the first half.
Whiteside then picked up his fourth foul just 3:33 into the third quarter when Embiid beat him off the dribble and Whiteside tried to slow him. Whiteside again went to the bench.
Some of Whiteside’s fouls in this series can be excused. But others have been mindless, committed far away from the basket.
When he returned early in the fourth, he promptly lost in the ball to Ben Simmons on one of the few occasions he seemed poised to make an aggressive move in the post. Then Whiteside threw the ball away with the Heat down 10.
Whiteside finally made his first field goal of the game, on his first shot, on an alley-oop dunk from Dwyane Wade. But Whiteside departed for good moments later, with Spoelstra going to Kelly Olynyk.
Whiteside, asked if some of his fouls were regrettable in retrospect, said: “Last game, it was a couple screens. I talked to the guards. They said they should have waited on a couple of screens.
“It's frustrating sometimes when you're playing physical and coach wants you to play physical and then you get in foul trouble. I could have stayed down on the pump fake here and there. I watched the film, other than the one I jumped for the pump fake, I didn't really see no other fouls.”
Embiid seemed to be annoyed by the mask he was wearing to protect his face; the visor had to replaced after Justise Winslow stepped on it.
But he made an indelible impact on both ends, hitting 10 of 15 free throws and blocking three shots.
He opened 2 for 7 from the field in the first half but finished 5 for 11, including two big ones down the stretch.
He also drew Whiteside away from the basket on several occasions, allowing 76ers players to drive to the basket unchallenged at least twice.
So can Whiteside recover from this embarrassing stretch?
“Hassan will be OK,” Goran Dragic said. “He needs to work through it. Everyone goes through tough parts of the season. I went through it two years ago. The only message I have for Hassan: keep your head up, work hard and sooner or later the game will come to you.”
Dwyane Wade's message to him? "Come in tomorrow and learn from it and get ready to play Game 4."
▪ Dragic was very good, playing with passion, high energy and All-Star level efficiency on a 23-point night. He hit eight of his first 11 shots, several times beating the 76ers in transition or off on the dribble. But he missed his only two shot attempts in the fourth quarter.
His floor game was immaculate, with eight assists and no turnovers. During one sequence in the fourth quarter, he drove down the court, dribbled behind his back and zipped a pass to Josh Richardson for a three.
Dragic clearly has figured out how to overcome the challenge of a taller defender, with 6-9 Robert Covington unable to slow the 6-3 Dragic for the first three quarters. Dragic drew offensive foul on Covington, his fourth foul, less than three minutes into second half.
But the Heat’s offense was out of sync in the fourth quarter, scoring 14 points on 5 for 19 shooting including four turnovers (two by Whiteside).
“If we get into a shootout, that's not our game,” Dragic said. “We’ve got to be more smart and run our offense.”
▪ Justise Winslow’s evolution continued with one of the best halves of his career. Winslow, no longer a liability on offense, hit four three pointers in a 19-point first half. That’s one point more than he scored in any game all season and four off his career high.
Winslow missed all five of his shots in a scoreless second half but helped in other areas, including exceptional blocks on Embiid and Covington.
He did good work defending Ben Simmons, pushed the pace on offense and led Miami with 10 rebounds.
And Winslow had the block of the night, soaring to swat away a shot by Embiid despite a five-inch height disadvantage. Embiid then blocked Winslow on the other end.
At the very least, Winslow’s growth has made him a valuable rotation piece or an attractive commodity who could be used in a multi-player bid for a high-end starter.
“It was amazing,” Winslow said of his night. “I live for these moments, these big games, the big stage. But I was just trying to do whatever it took to win and we fell up short. So three months, four months from now I’ll look back and it will be a great memory and great moment. But the bigger picture, we didn’t win tonight. I rather have the two-point [win] rather than the whatever L. It’s tough, man. It’s tough when you’re playing that well and you still can’t pull it out. But it is what it is. We got to find a way.”
▪ The Heat couldn’t slow much of anything defensively in a game played at a pace to Philadelphia’s liking. The Heat, which allowed only 102.1 points per game in the regular season (fifth best in the league), has now allowed at least 128 points in two of the first three games of this series.
The Sixers tormented the Heat in the paint (outscoring Miami 36-22) and from the three-point line, where the Sixers finished 18 for 34 (52.9 percent),
The Heat held opponents to 34.3 percent three-point shooting during the regular season, third best in the league.
“We're not making it difficult enough on them,” Josh Richardson said. “We're letting them get comfortable. We're letting them play comfortable. We can't let that happen. They get into a rhythm and they're very tough to stop.”
Philadelphia missed a ton of uncontested shots in Game 2 but didn’t miss many of those shots in Game 3.
"We’re at home and this is supposed to be our time to take it to another level," Wade said. "And I feel like we gave too many rhythm jump shots. We’re not going to beat them in a jump-shooting contest. We’re not going to beat them if we allow them to get those shots they had. And then they started making the tough ones."
▪ Wade couldn’t match his 28 point masterpiece from Game 2 and struggled from the field, finishing 2 for 10 with more turnovers (four) than field goals.
He had eight points and five assists in 25 minutes.
"We try to figure out, go look at the way they guarded us and try to figure out ways to be better," Wade said. "It wasn’t a shock to me. I know they were going to try to blitz me off the ball and things of that nature. So, we just got to be a little better next game with what we get our scorers and our attackers."
Wade and Philadelphia's Justin Anderson had a first-half incident on the endline in which Wade seemed to pull down Anderson by the wrist as the two fell out of bounds and Anderson gave Wade a forearm that fell short of a flagrant foul in the eyes of the referees. Double technical fouls were called.
"He came into the game to be a tough guy," Wade said. "The officials didn't do anything about it so I did."