The loss snapped the 76ers’ 17-game winning streak, the second-longest single-season streak in franchise history.
By Al Thompson
The Miami Heat were able to hold off a furious rally by the 76ers late in the fourth quarter and come away with a 113–103 win over Philadelphia, evening their Eastern Conference best-of-seven series at one game apiece. Game 3 takes place in Miami on Thursday.
The Heat took a 16-point lead with 11:04 left in the fourth quarter on a cutting dunk by forward James Johnson.
But the Sixers, led by guard Ben Simmons and forwards Ersan Ilyasova and Dario Saric, went on a 16–2 run to pull within two points at 98–96 on an Ilyasova putback with 4:29 left that had all 20,753 fans on their feet and in a frenzy at the Wells Fargo Center hoping their team would pull out a win.
Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra made sure that didn’t happen. He put veteran guard Dwyane Wade back in the game and the future Hall of Famer made an immediate impact.
The Sixers rebounded the ball on the ensuing Heat possession but Wade anticipated a pass to Saric, stole the ball and passed it to center Kelly Olynyk, who gave it back to Wade for a running dunk with 4:03 left.
The Sixers never recovered.
“The reason I was brought here was for a game like this,” said Wade, who returned to the Heat when the Cleveland Cavaliers traded him to Miami on Feb. 8. “When they cut it to two, to come back in the game and settle everything down. I’m glad I was able to do that.”
Wade, who has come off the bench since his return, said he saw the Sixers use the same passing lane earlier in the game.
“I watched that play go down earlier in the game when I was on the bench and when I was in the game,” Wade said. “I told myself if they do that play later, I’m going to steal it.”
Wade scored a game-high 28 points and pulled down seven rebounds in 26 minutes.
The loss snapped the 76ers’ 17-game winning streak, dating to March 13. It was the second-longest single-season streak in franchise history.
The first quarter went much better for the Sixers Monday night, as they led, 29–22. In Game 1, the home team trailed, 35–29, after the opening quarter.
To say the Sixers went cold in the second quarter would not do justice to how poorly they executed on offense and defense.
Sloppy play and poor shooting plagued Philadelphia, as the Sixers were outscored 34–13 in the quarter, trailing by 14 at the half.
The Sixers shot just 33.3 percent from the field, 11.1 percent from beyond the three-point arc. Philadelphia’s shooters produced 18 three-pointers in Game 1, but could muster only two treys on 18 attempts in the first half.
Simmons, a Rookie of the Year candidate, recorded 24 points (10–17 FG), eight rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes in Game 2.
He admitted the second-quarter surge by Miami pretty much decided the game.
“The second quarter was definitely where they punched us in the mouth and we didn’t respond the right way,” Simmons said. “We brought it back, but it wasn’t enough. They were making shots, running their plays and, defensively, they did a great job.”
The Sixers took 35 shots from beyond the arc for the game, making just seven.
The Heat were much more physical Monday night, pressuring the Sixers on the perimeter.
JJ Redick, who was 1-of-7 from the three-point line (11 points overall), talked what effect the lack of room given around the three-point line had.
“I don’t know,” Redick said. “I felt like we had good threes, we shot good threes. I don’t know. I would have to look at the tape. Eighteen-for-28 is unsustainable and on the other end, I think a 2-for-18 first half is also an anomaly. Hopefully, it will balance back out. We’ll shoot high 30s, low 40s for the rest of the series.”
Wade said the Heat played Game 1 like it was a regular season game. He said they wanted to play with more intensity and make the young players on the Sixers realize this is the NBA playoffs and make it a “Welcome to the playoffs” moment for Philadelphia.
Sixers head coach Brett Brown was asked if this loss was an eye-opening game for his inexperienced players.
“You can phrase it in a bunch of ways, but to me, it’s the reality of NBA basketball and it will only get harder,” Brown said. “Our guys will learn more about themselves than they’ve learned in the regular season for however long we play in the playoffs. We haven’t lost since March 13 and this game equals the NBA playoffs. This is a snapshot of what you should expect when a team is going to go down 2–0 if they are unable to find a win.”
Brown also said the Heat played like they were desperate. Falling behind 2–0 in the series would be tough to come back from.
Saric was asked about the Heat playing like a desperate team.
“They were a totally different team than the first game,” said Saric, who scored 23 points, on 8-of-21 shooting. “I think they tried to go over the screens all the time, tried to breathe down our necks. They really wanted to win this game. We were a little bit surprised first and second quarter. In the second half, we started to play, but it was already too late. For the next game, we have to have the same attitude as them.”
Saric was asked if the team is looking forward to the return of all-star center Joel Embiid, who has been out with a concussion and a orbital fracture under his left eye suffered in a March 28 game against the New York Knicks.
He missed the Sixers’ final eight regular season games and both playoff games. The outspoken center expressed his frustration on social media after the loss, saying “….sick and tired of being babied.”
Brown admitted the Heat were starting to exploit his absence, especially with Simmons, who was pressured up and down the court all night. He did not have Embiid to dump the ball to.
“Of course, Joel is an all-star,” Saric said. “We’re talking about a superstar in the league. We are missing him on every point defensively as well as offensively. Whether people pressure Ben or not pressure Ben, it doesn’t matter. When you have a guy like that on your team and he’s out, of course we’re missing him. I cannot wait for Joel to come back and help us.”
Neither can Sixers fans. ••