It was the shot that symbolized the Sixers' 130-103 Game 1 win over the Heat.
Marco Belinelli fading away, nearly falling into the high-priced courtside seats, but somehow, someway, still managing to bury the shot. He hit 4 of 7 from long range on the night, none tougher than that one. The Sixers, after trailing at the half, outscored the Heat 74-43 in the final two quarters. A nail-biter turned into a rout real quick.
Belinelli and his partner in crime off the bench, Ersan Ilyasova, combined for 42 points, shooting 7 for 11 from downtown. As a team, the Sixers set a club playoff record hitting 18 three-pointers on 28 attempts. They say necessity is the mother of invention. When Joel Embiid was concussed and fractured his orbital bone on March 28th, Brett Brown had a decision to make. He decided the best course for his team without his all-star big man was to push the tempo.
They’ve since won nine straight without Embiid and 17 overall. The lion’s share of the credit rightfully will go to Brown, the scintillating play of Ben Simmons and Dario Saric. But the trade deadline additions of Belinelli and Ilyasova have proved to be season-altering for this team.
The Sixers bench is the best of any team still playing. When J.J. Redick exits, there’s barely a beat skipped with Belinelli’s range and skill coming off screens. Ilyasova's ability to stretch a defense while also scoring inside and rebounding has been invaluable. Saturday evening vs. the Heat, Ilyasova scored 17 points on 3 of 4 shooting from three, to go with 14 rebounds in 32 minutes.
The pair's versatility allows Brown to go small and run the other team out of the building. And the long-range marksmanship can get you back in a game real quick. That was on full display in front of a raucous Wells Fargo Center Saturday. It’s also allowed the team to sustain without Embiid. Make no mistake, the pillars of the Sixers' success going forward are Embiid, Simmons, Saric, Redick and Markelle Fultz. But they are not having this kind of success without Belinelli and Ilyasova.
Sam Hinkie laid the foundation but Bryan Colangelo deserves major props for these additions. They may not have been splashy at the time but the moves were exactly what this team needed. Bringing Belinelli, Ilyasova, now Fultz and Richaun Holmes off the bench provides the Sixers with major firepower on that second unit. That kind of balance is what makes the Sixers a very scary team in the Eastern Conference. And it’s the newcomers who could be the difference makers for a deep playoff run.