Richaun Holmes

Sixers can't avoid Heat-seeking missile

Sixers can't avoid Heat-seeking missile


MIAMI — The Sixers’ challenging stretch of Eastern Conference playoff foes continued Tuesday in Miami with a 102-101 loss to the Heat. 

The Sixers dropped to 32-27 while the Heat improved to 32-29, closing the gap to one game between the seventh and eighth seed. This contest was significant for locking in the season series if playoff rankings come down to a tiebreaker. The Sixers are 2-1 against the Heat with another matchup in Miami next week.

The Sixers led by 13 points in the second quarter before the Heat erased that advantage with a 15-0 run. That spurt set the tone for a game that would not be decided until the final seconds. 

Dario Saric fouled Dwyane Wade shooting a three with 27 seconds to play. Wade made all three free throws to tie the game, 100-100. The Heat intentionally sent Ben Simmons to the line on the next possession. He made one of two. 

Wade pulled up for a 21-foot jumper to give the Heat the deciding lead with 5.9 seconds remaining. The Sixers got JJ Redick a wide-open three-point look for the last shot, but it didn’t fall. Redick shot 2 for 8 from three in the game.

• Thirty-six-year-old Wade turned back the clock with 15 points in the fourth quarter en route to 27 on the night. 

• Joel Embiid played with foul trouble, picking up his fifth early in the fourth quarter. He finished with 23 points, eight rebounds and four assists. 

• The Sixers surrendered 26 points off 23 turnovers. Embiid (five), Redick (five) and Simmons (four) combined for more than half of those. 

• Brown returned to the pairing of Embiid and Richaun Holmes, sliding Holmes to power forward. Holmes (six points, seven rebounds) also got fourth-quarter minutes at center when Embiid was sidelined by fouls. 

• Trevor Booker was available but did not play. He is the likely roster subtraction if the Sixers re-sign Ersan Ilyasova, who was bought out by the Hawks. Booker is in the final year of his contract, worth $9.1 million this season. 

• The Sixers are winless in their last six games in Miami. Their last victory was Nov. 13, 2015. 

• Heat coach Erik Spoelstra expected this to be a highly-contested matchup based on the previous meetings.

“Those have been harrowing games,” Spoelstra said pregame. “If you’re watching at some point either way, in either game you may have turned it off thinking it was a blowout. Both games ended up being tight down the stretch. You have two very competitive, probably relatively even-matched teams.” 

• Sixers fans broke into “E-A-G-L-E-S” chants inside AmericanAirlines Arena. 

• Up next: The Sixers, with well-publicized billboards in the area, travel to Cleveland to face the 36-24 Cavaliers. 

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win

AP Images

There's no 'I' in Sixers team win


The Sixers’ 116-105 victory over the Magic (see observations) was just that: a complete “Sixers” victory.

This wasn’t about one player taking over or the starting five carrying the weight. From players one through 10 who stepped on the court, everyone contributed. 

“It doesn’t matter who scores all the points as long as we win,” Ben Simmons said. “We all know that to get to the next level, that’s what it’s going to take.”

Enhancing the bench is a priority for the Sixers as they look to the playoffs. They are going to need depth in a postseason series, having different weapons as they face the same opponent night in and night out. 

Brett Brown was committed to counting on the second unit. The Sixers held a 22-point lead halfway through the fourth, an opportunity for starters to get a significant period of rest ahead of Sunday’s back-to-back on the road against the Wizards. 

So as the Magic chipped away at the differential and got within nine, the reserves stayed on the court. Even when Mario Hezonja attempted a trey that would have cut the lead to six with 1:21 remaining, Brown had decided the starters would remain on the sidelines.

“I wasn’t going to do it," Brown said of subbing in the starters. "I was going to go with those guys. Some of it’s just gut feel, maybe some of it’s stubbornness. But we have to grow our bench. We have to give those guys confidence that they can close out games and they did. My intention was to going to be to let them see it through.”

In total, the reserves combined for 32 points, 16 rebounds and 12 assists. The bench stepped up in different ways. Marco Belinelli provided a boost on the scoreboard with 15 points. T.J. McConnell absorbed extra playing time and clocked a team-high 31 minutes. (None of the starters played more than 29 minutes.) 

Brown determined before the game he would give Richaun Holmes the nod to back up Embiid instead of Amir Johnson. He wanted Holmes, who has played in only three of his last 10 games, to get the opportunity for time on the court (see video). Holmes grabbed eight rebounds with four points in 21 minutes. 

“It shows (the bench) can hold it down,” Simmons said. “We have guys who are capable of doing that, it doesn’t have to be the starting five.”

The bench's production in this win over the Magic is only a small glimpse into what the Sixers believe they will need to succeed in the postseason. 

"Our objective is, in general, playoffs, but I want home-court advantage," Joel Embiid said. "To know that going into the playoffs you have a bench that can come in and keep the lead or keep building the lead, it's great. In the playoffs you need that, you need a bench to come in and keep it up for the starters, and finish it."

'Unlikely suspects' give Sixers perfect touch at home

'Unlikely suspects' give Sixers perfect touch at home


It would've been easy for the Sixers to pack it in.

During the final game before the All-Star break, without their best player and down 23 at the half, this game had loss written all over it.

Instead, the Sixers outscored the Miami Heat 65-40 in the second half of a 104-102 win at Wells Fargo Center Wednesday (see observations).

"We felt that within this room we had enough firepower, offensively," head coach Brett Brown said when asked about his halftime message, "but nothing can happen unless we have some level of sting to our defense."

After allowing the Heat to shoot 52 percent from the field in the first half, the Sixers held Miami to just 37 percent in the second. And they were able to produce that second-half "sting" without the services of All-Star big man Joel Embiid (see story).

Rookie Ben Simmons (18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) and Dario Saric (19 points, eight rebounds, three assists) were their usual stellar selves, but it was the Sixers' bench that propelled them to the win. Veteran Trevor Booker, newcomer Marco Belinelli and the recently bench-ridden Richaun Holmes were huge in the comeback effort.

"As I look at our bench and I see the contribution that Richaun made and Trevor Booker made and Marco Belinelli made," Brown said. "Kind of unlikely suspects to flip a game that we were down 24 at home and claw back and have a tremendous win, and to achieve our goal of winning the five games at home sure makes the [All-Star break] a heck of a lot more enjoyable."

Booker and Holmes provided their typical energy. Booker grabbed nine rebounds in just 15 minutes, while Holmes, though not Wednesday’s starter at center, played 28 minutes, recorded 11 points, nine boards and two blocks, and was also in the game down the stretch as the Sixers clung to their lead.

"That's what we do," Booker said. "We both bring energy. When both of us are on, it's tough. But that's what we do. We provide the energy and just try to get the team going and that's what we did tonight."

As for Belinelli, he came as advertised. The sharpshooter, who signed Monday after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks, provided the team exactly what it needed: bench scoring (see story). The 11-year veteran scored 13 of his 17 points as the Sixers made their comeback in the second half. He shot 7 of 12 from the field overall, including 3 of 5 from three. 

After the game, he felt vindicated in picking the Sixers.

"I remember yesterday saying the one thing I really love about this group," Belinelli said, "they want to win so bad and that's why I think we won this game. It's not easy. Especially down [24] against a really good team in Miami, I'm really impressed." 

The Sixers swept their five-game homestand in impressive fashion.

But was it their best win of the season?

"It's high," Brown said. "It could be No. 1. It feels like it's the best as I speak."