Daily Local News (West Chester, PA)
Sixers return to Miami on a roll
PHILADELPHIA » As they gathered their belongings and their remaining pride last Wednesday for a charter home, the Sixers had no assurance they would soon return to Miami.
At the time, their center’s face and their outside shooting both had cratered. They were deeply behind in a first-to-four challenge, a loss away from falling into an historically catastrophic series hole. They were about to face a home crowd known for occasional bouts of discontent. They were woozy, wobbly and exhausted. Four days later? “We’re getting more confident,” James Harden said. “And those first two games were a blur.”
That first Miami experience behind, the Sixers have played their way into an opportunity to grab command of the series in Game 5 Tuesday night at 7:30 at FTX Arena. That, they earned with a couple of impressive triumphs at home, not coincidentally with Joel Embiid back after recovering from a concussion.
Though Embiid is not likely to be the league MVP — as credible reports indicate that Nikola Jokic will win the award — he has changed the Sixers’ look and attitude.
“I mean, the way we played is the reason why we were able to tie the series, but I don’t think we have played our best basketball,” Embiid said after a 116-108 victory Sunday. “So that is the encouraging thing.”
While many playoff series are exhibits of strategy changes and lineup twists, there has been something more rudimentary about the way the Eastern Conference semifinal has been reduced to a best-of-three. In every game, the losing team shot particularly poorly. In Game 1, the Sixers shot 6-for-34 from distance. In Game 2, they were 8-for-30. In Game 3, Miami was 7-for-30, and in Game 4 it was 7-for-35. With proper respect to the defenses, such wild inefficiency does lend support to Doc Rivers’ repeated shrugs that the NBA is a “make-miss” league.
“You know how fast that can
change, though,” said Heat coach Eric Spoelstra. “We have guys where, all of a sudden, they see shots go down. And that’s what I want our guys thinking about. I want them being gunslingers. Come out firing. Because that igniteability can change in a hurry.”
While the shooting struggles appear oddly similar when presented in boxscore form, they were not. The Sixers’ two-game clank-a-palooza was more of a run of inaccuracy, a blast of otherwise decent shooters all facing ill-fortune at once. The series turned, though, when a masked Embiid returned from a concussion and an orbital-bone fracture to protect the rim and free teammates to better challenge shooters. In the last two games, the Heat rarely enjoyed an uncontested outside shot.