Marco Belinelli

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami

Joel Embiid's return sparks Sixers' physical Game 3 win in Miami


MIAMI — Joel Embiid is 1-0 in the playoffs.

The Sixers beat the Heat, 128-108, Thursday with their mask-wearing center back in the starting lineup to take a 2-1 lead on the series. 

• Embiid made his long-awaited return, playing in his postseason debut and first game since March 28. Donning a face mask with goggles (see story), Embiid rejoined the starting lineup. He had 23 points, seven rebounds and four assists in 30 minutes. 

He looked eager as well as affected at times by the long layoff from the left orbital fracture and concussion. He was aggressive at getting to the line (and drawing fouls on Hassan Whiteside), but shot 10 for 15 once there. Embiid knocked down threes (3 of 4), at the same time committing a 24-second violation trying to back down to the basket. Considering how long it’s been since he played, Embiid’s conditioning looked better than expected. 

• This game was not decided until the final quarter. The Sixers led, 96-94, after three. Brett Brown started Ben Simmons, JJ Redick, Robert Covington, Ersan Ilyasova and Embiid to open the fourth. That group outscored the Heat 9-1 to push the lead to 10 and change the tone of the remainder of the game. 

• First it was Kelly Olynyk. Then it was Dwyane Wade. In Game 3, Justise Winslow was the offensive spark plug off the Miami bench. Winslow scored 19 points in the first half, seven more than the Heat’s next leading scorer. He also was an agitator throughout the game, continuing to try to get under the Sixers’ skin as he had done in the previous games. Check out what happened with the goggles from Embiid’s mask.

• Justin Anderson looked like he had been waiting for this defensive assignment all season. Brown tasked him with defending Wade in the first half, and that matchup turned chippy. Anderson and Wade both were called for physical taunting technical fouls after Anderson pushed off on Wade and Wade grabbed his arm and flung him around. Anderson had played less than two minutes in the series prior to Game 3. 

• The game was physical with whistles and double techs throughout the night. Just how physical was it?

• Late in the third quarter, the Sixers rolled out the lineup of T.J. McConnell, Marco Belinelli, Anderson, Ilyasova and Embiid. None of these players are hesitant to mix things up. At one point a play culminated with Embiid and Anderson jumping up to block an Olynyk shot with the Heat forward landing on the ground. 

• Brown had planned to play Markelle Fultz more than the five minutes he clocked in Game 2. That didn’t happen. Fultz was on the court for 4:21 in the first half without a shot attempt (one rebound, one assist, two fouls). McConnell got the backup point guard minutes in the second half. 

• Game 4 will be played at 2:30 p.m. Saturday afternoon on NBCSP in Miami.

Heat's increased physicality bothers Sixers in Game 2

Heat's increased physicality bothers Sixers in Game 2

Game 1 was just a little too easy for the Sixers. Too much free space in transition, too many open threes, too many offensive rebounds. The Heat were determined to make Game 2 different.

An hour before tipoff, 15-year veteran Udonis Haslem’s focus was clear. “We gotta get into the physical part of the game,” Haslem said. “Make everything tough, make everything physical, raise our level of intensity as their level of intensity has raised. And then secondly, we’ll get into the X’s and O’s. But first of all, just pure competition.”

Miami’s physicality was on another level in Monday’s night 113-103 win (see observations). The Heat picked up Ben Simmons full court, chased Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick tight around every screen, and issued their fair share of “playoff fouls” whenever a Sixer found an inch of free space in the paint. It was a stark contrast to Game 1, when they gave Simmons plenty of room to operate, saw the Sixers make 18 of their 28 three-point attempts and conceded numerous open dunks.

“They were more physical, and I think that was the expectation,” JJ Redick said. “In terms of their schemes, they didn’t change a whole lot. I think the biggest thing was just how they approached their defense on Ben. Instead of sagging off in the paint, they were pressuring full court. Other than that, it was just being more physical all around with our bigs. We had trouble just getting to our plays sometimes.”

The Heat held the Sixers to 7-for-36 shooting from three-point range, their fourth-worst long-range shooting percentage of the season. While a few of those misses were open looks, a big part of the Sixers’ struggles from long range Monday were due to how closely the Heat tailed shooters off the ball, and how often they denied the initial action and made the Sixers take a worse shot.

“I just think we made it tough on them,” Heat guard Josh Richardson said. “They were able to get wherever they wanted last time and if you let them do that then they're just going to punish you. We took it upon ourselves in those last two days to come out tougher and make things harder on them.”

After a dismal second quarter in which they were outscored 34-13 the Sixers responded in the second half. Their shots still weren’t falling from deep, but the Sixers didn’t shy away from the physical challenge. Simmons, who scored 15 of his 24 points in the second half, was involved in plenty of pushing and shoving off the ball with Justise Winslow.

“They were a little bit more physical, but at the same time, our guys can throw bodies around,” Simmons said. “I think that was one of the biggest things.”

This series is going to be a fight, and Redick thinks it’s not the worst thing in the world that the Sixers absorbed a few blows Monday night.

“For the guys who haven’t been through the fire of the playoffs, this will sharpen you and strengthen you as a player, as a man, as a group,” Redick said. “Games like this are good for you, but it doesn’t feel good to lose.”

Sixers' rally falls short in Game 2 as Heat snap 17-game win streak

Sixers' rally falls short in Game 2 as Heat snap 17-game win streak


It’s a series.

The Heat beat the Sixers, 113-103, to even it up in Game 2 Monday. They snapped the Sixers’ 17-game win streak and handed them their first loss at the Wells Fargo Center since March 13.

The Sixers climbed within two points in the fourth, but their 16-point deficit was too much to overcome. They will play Game 3 in Miami Thursday night (7 p.m./NBCSP). 

• The three-point shooting that propelled the Sixers in Game 1 fell flat. After going 18 for 28 on Saturday, they shot just 7 for 36. Marco Belinelli (2 of 8), Robert Covington (1 of 9), JJ Redick (1 of 7) and Dario Saric (3 of 10) all struggled from long range. 

• The Sixers started Ersan Ilyasova (14 points, 11 boards) at center to create the same matchup problems that helped them come back in the third quarter of Game 1. Unlike Saturday when the Heat played Hassan Whiteside (four points, five rebounds) for only four minutes in the entire second half, the center played over eight minutes in the first quarter alone. The Heat had two days to plan for adjustments in case the Sixers went with that lineup. 

• The second quarter was rough for the Sixers. They scored 13 points in the entire quarter. Only Ben Simmons, Redick and Saric netted baskets. Meanwhile, Dwyane Wade scored 15 points in that period himself (see more below). The Sixers made just four buckets, shot 19 percent from the field and 1 for 10 from three. The Heat out-rebounded the Sixers, 18-7, to take away second-chance point opportunities. 

• Wade always is capable of a vintage Wade game. It was unlikely the championship winner would have another quiet night. Wade scored a game-high 28 points (11 for 17 from the field) (see story). He's had a knack for turning it on against the Sixers. He previously dropped 15 in the fourth quarter in February. Starters Goran Dragic and James Johnson scored 20 points and 18 points, respectively.

• Saric amped up his game in the fourth. He scored 10 of his 23 points in the quarter to spark a Sixers’ comeback attempt. Simmons led the Sixers with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists. 

• Markelle Fultz played less than five minutes. He went scoreless (0 for 3 from the field) and without a rebound or assist. When Simmons picked up his fourth foul in the third quarter, T.J. McConnell subbed in and Fultz did not play in the second half. McConnell drew a foul on a put-back attempt with 0.4 seconds left in the third quarter and the crowd chanted “T-J” when he went to the line. 

• Keep an eye on Justise Winslow and Simmons in this series. Things got chippy between them in the first half. Any matchup against the Heat is going to be physical. 

• The Sixers held a moment of silence in remembrance of Hall of Famer Hal Greer, who died Saturday.