Matt Haughton

Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

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Sixers ready to embrace Heat's increased physicality on defense

The Heat’s physicality in Game 2 didn’t bother every Sixers player.

“I think this is the first time where it’s been let go a little bit more, which has been good. I enjoy it,” said Ben Simmons, who recorded 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in the Sixers’ 113-103 loss. “I love competing against guys like that, who you know want to hit each other and knock each other down, which is good.”

When you’re a 6-10, 230-pound bruising version of a point guard, that type of play would definitely appear to fit your style. 

Chalk Simmons up as the exception and not the rule for the Sixers, although the entire team knew the Heat were going to punch back after a lopsided Game 1.

“Obviously, they were very physical,” Markelle Fultz said after Tuesday’s practice. “I don’t think that was like something we were shocked by. We knew they were going to come out more physical. That was one of the emphasis they had coming in.”

“Honestly, it was what we expected them to do,” JJ Redick said. “We didn’t expect things to be as easy as that second half was in Game 1. They’re a championship organization with a lot of pride. That was expected. So we have to kind of move on and go under the assumption that that’s how it’s going to be the rest of the series.”

If that’s the case, this Sixers team with limited playoff experience outside of a few veterans better get adjusted in a hurry.

The Sixers were clearly affected by Miami’s increased defensive intensity on Monday night. They shot just 41.7 percent from the field (19.4 percent from three-point range) and committed 15 turnovers. More importantly, they allowed the Heat to knock their entire offense out of rhythm.

“I think, too, it wasn’t just about physicality,” Redick said. “I think a byproduct of that, and probably part of their strategy, was if you’re physical you’re going to foul. The game becomes choppy and the game is played at their pace. We have to figure out a way to play the game at our pace.”

The Sixers know getting the game on their terms means being stronger with the ball, setting better screens and cutting harder to the basket. However, perhaps the best way to counter the Heat’s extra physicality is by simply embracing the defensive pressure.

“Honestly, I think it can help us a lot because with team pressure we can just be able to attack,” Fultz said. “If we get to the rim, we have great athletes and we have great shooters. So get to the rim.”

Sixers' Game 1 win was blast, but let's not get carried away

Sixers' Game 1 win was blast, but let's not get carried away

The Sixers’ Game 1 win over the Miami Heat in their best-of-seven series was impressive on all fronts.

They drilled a franchise playoff-record 18 three-pointers. Ben Simmons was far from timid in his first postseason game, as he came up a single rebound shy of a triple-double. Their defense forced the Heat into 18 turnovers, which resulted in 28 points.

The Sixers even nailed things before the game got underway by having a masked Joel Embiid serve as the ceremonial bell ringer.

All of the good vibes have swept a big fact right under the rug: it’s just one victory.

“They don't get two wins, three wins for this,” Erik Spoelstra said after the game. “It's one win.”

If anyone understands that, it’s Spoelstra. Now in his 10th year as Heat head coach, he’s been in just about every playoff situation imaginable. 

Perhaps the most important thing Spoelstra has learned over time is that a series can change in a hurry.

“We’ll make some adjustments. We came here to work and get better today,” he said after Sunday’s practice at Temple University. “When you have more experience in this, you realize it all counts as one. We can crawl out of here with a one-point win and it’s all the same. Then we’re in the driver’s seat.”

That’s exactly what the Sixers are trying to prevent. Despite a 27-point win, they went back to the drawing board to fix a couple missteps of their own before Game 2 (8 p.m./NBC Sports Philadelphia).

“Just cleaning up some stuff that we made mistakes on in the last game,” Markelle Fultz said of the Sixers’ objective during practice. “Focus on the things that we did good and just try to improve on those and just go from there.”

Sounds pretty simple. Much like what the Sixers have accomplished to this point.

Sure, they’ve won 17 in a row and the last one was their first playoff victory in six years. But they also realize none of that will mean a thing if they come out overconfident on Monday night.

“We protected home court,” JJ Redick said. “Doc Rivers used to always say something along the lines of a playoff series really doesn’t start until someone gets a road win. So all we’ve done is protect home court for one game.”

Great defense wasn't all Robert Covington gave Sixers in Game 1

Great defense wasn't all Robert Covington gave Sixers in Game 1

With Joel Embiid still working his way back from surgery to repair a fractured left orbital bone, Robert Covington has taken over as the Sixers’ designated hype man on the floor.

Whenever there is a big play — or an opponent at the free throw line threatening to reward fans with a beloved Frosty — Covington can be seen waving his arms to raise the noise level inside the Wells Fargo Center.

He might have gotten a little more than he bargained for on Saturday.

“There were times when I literally couldn’t hear myself think,” Covington said of the atmosphere for the Sixers’ 130-103 Game 1 win over the Heat (see observations).

While most of the roars raining down in Saturday’s victory were for Ben Simmons’ high-flying dunks or the Sixers’ team playoff-record 18 threes (Covington had two of his own), the swingman deserved a personal applause for all of his other contributions.

One quick glance at the box score shows Covington had a pedestrian 9 points, 7 rebounds and 4 assists, as he battled foul trouble all night. However, dig a little deeper and you’ll really unearth just how valuable he is to this squad.

Covington had three blocks, several dives on the floor for loose balls and even more deflections. That sticky defense was also a major reason Miami’s starting five shot a collective 32.5 percent from the field, as the Sixers tightened the clamps after halftime.

“We just had to be more maniacal and get more locked in,” Covington said. “We were able to do that in that third period and that's what allowed us to get that lead.”

“He was huge,” Simmons said of Covington’s defense. “Had a lot of deflections, blocks. He’s just a great defender all around. He's long and he did a great job tonight.”

It’s the type of impact Sam Hinkie envisioned when the former Sixers executive plucked Covington from the G League in 2014. 

Four grueling years later, Covington is just happy he could be a main cog in one of the most remarkable franchise turnarounds in NBA history.

“It’s been unique,” he said. “Overall, just being here with this team and to see the transition has been amazing. I’m thankful to be a part of it. A lot of people have come through this locker room over the years. Just to still be here, part of this team and I’m adding to the success. Not giving up, not being comfortable. It’s one of the things where you just have to continue to work and that’s what I did year in and year out.”