This is all my fault, probably. When Dwyane Wade was traded back to the Miami Heat at the deadline this year, I cackled about how this was one of the best things that could've happened to the Sixers' playoff push. Wade isn't the player he once was, and as a no-three-or-D wing, he's pretty much the exact player the NBA is moving away from. With his reputation and oversized shadow in Miami, I figured he'd cost the Heat a few wins in the playoff race against Philly if anything, trying to take over games he no longer really had the capacity to take over.
Well, he had the capacity last night, for damn sure. Though he entered the game with abysmal numbers in his five previous Miami games, it was all classic Wade on Tuesday against Philly, as he scored 27 points -- 15 in the fourth quarter, most of it down the stretch -- and slayed the Sixers almost single-handedly, costing them a game they really probably shoulda won. Late-shot-clock threes, runners down the lane, sketchily drawn fouls and a final pull-up long two to put Miami ahead with six seconds to go -- Wade had it all going down last night, and it ended up being enough for a 102-101 Miami victory. Sorry everyone.
It was as painful a loss as Brett Brown's crew has suffered in 2018 -- though judging by 2014-2017 standards, it still tops out at like a 7 -- but long-term, I think it actually shows some good signs for the Sixers. In the final 90 seconds, Miami was able to surge ahead and stay there, but the Sixers fought hard, executed some pretty smart plays, and played pretty good defense. Wade stole this game from them; they didn't just hand it to him.
Not to scapegoat JJ Redick, who's been awesome for us in the clutch on multiple occasions this season, but this came down to two plays that the Sixers put him in perfect position to make, and he happened to flub. The first was an alley-oop to Ben Simmons with 90 seconds to go and Philly up three, with Simmons freed on a back-pick from Joel Embiid that had him wide open for the basket. All Redick had to do from the top of the key was to put the pass in Simmons' general vicinity -- but he threw it high, and the ball went off his hands out of bounds. Then, of course, in the game's closing seconds with Philly down one, Simmons backed down with the ball in the post and kicked out to Dario Saric behind the arc, who whipped the ball to a wide-open Redick with more than enough time to get off the potential game-winner -- which clanged off. If JJ connects on either one of those, it's a Philly win.
Conversely, on the other side of the ball, they didn't let Wade get anything easy late. His final seven points for Miami came on a tough running floater, three free throws he was awarded on a Saric foul behind the arc (which I thought was a bogus call -- Dario avoided contact and Wade very obviously jumped sideways into him), and a step-back, pull-up 21-footer that Ben Simmons and Robert Covington couldn't have contested much better. That's the shot you want a historically iffy jump-shooter from distance like Wade to take -- but hey, he made it. Give it up for the future Hall of Famer, and curse the basketball gods that his one transcendent game of 2018 came against Philly.
That's not to say the loss didn't sting like the dickens. But hey, remember those come-from-ahead losses earlier this year, where once the game reached its final minutes, the Sixers seemed to forget how to play competitive basketball altogether? The ones where every offensive possession ended in a live-ball turnover, a shot-clock violation or a laughably low-percentage three-point hoist? The ones where the other team got layups and wide-open threes at will, and there seemed to be nothing we could do to stop the bleeding?
This wasn't that. The Sixers played well enough late to win this game: Embiid, who scored on a three-pointer and an excellent drive to the basket in the final minutes, remained particularly deadly, even as he struggled with the refs squeezing him all game. But sometimes over 82 games, the other team just makes the plays that your team doesn't, and that's what happened last night. That Wade had to play as well as he did, down to the final plays, to sink the Sixers is ultimately a very encouraging development.
Unfortunately, it's two losses in a row for Philly, which keeps them in 7th place in the East -- with just a game now separating them and the 8th-seeded Heat, with Philly heading to Cleveland on Thursday night for the toughest remaining contest on their schedule. It's a bummer they couldn't get this one and give themselves some breathing room on this mini-road trip, but as I've been saying for weeks now, this is the last bad stretch for Philly this season, and whatever playoff ground we lose this week, we should have more than enough time to make up for in our final 20-plus games. If we play like we did last night, I like our chances of doing so.