The Philadelphia 76ers can only hope for a triumphant return from Joel Embiid in Game 3 of their conference semifinals series against the Miami Heat. Through two games, the Sixers just haven’t shown that they can compete with the top-seeded Heat (who’ve been without Kyle Lowry) without their Kia MVP candidate. And with Game 3 less than 48 hours away (7 ET on Friday), it’s not clear that Embiid (who suffered a fractured orbital bone and concussion in Game 6 of the first round) will be ready to return.
“He’s got so many steps to go through,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said of Embiid’s status. “I don’t think he’s cleared any of them right now. So we just have to wait and see.”
Game 2 on Wednesday didn’t follow the same script as Game 1 (both teams were better offensively), but it was another comfortable win for the Heat. They took control with a 7-0 run to close the third quarter and never trailed by fewer than four points after that, putting the game away with a 10-0 run in the fourth.
Here are some notes, numbers and film from the 119-103 victory that gave the Heat a 2-0 series lead.
1. The Heat get hot
The Sixers continue to have issues on offense, but this game was more about the other end of the floor, where the Heat had their second-most efficient performance of the postseason. They scored 119 points on just 95 possessions (125.3 per 100), shooting 51% from the field (including 14-for-29 from 3-point range) and attempting 31 free throws.
The Heat again took advantage of DeAndre Jordan’s lack of mobility and have now scored 88 points on 58 possessions (152 per 100) with Jordan on the floor in this series …
They also took advantage of the Sixers’ smaller defenders. Furkan Korkmaz is the only one of the Sixers’ shooters who’s shot well in this series, but that’s just 3-for-6 from 3-point range (all other Sixers are 11-for-58 for 19%). There’s a reason he hasn’t been in the rotation of late, and the Heat were able to attack him multiple times in Game 2 …
The new Kia Sixth Man of the Year has also been efficient. Over the two games, Tyler Herro has 43 points on a true shooting percentage of 71.5%, the best mark among players with at least 25 field-goal attempts in this round. He’s easily the Heat’s best off-the-dribble creator (maybe the best on either of these teams), and he was in his bag Wednesday …
The Sixers had a little success by blitzing Herro in the fourth quarter, getting two live-ball turnovers that turned into fast-break buckets. And we could see more of that going forward. But on Wednesday, it was too little, too late.
2. Zone for me, zone for you
In Game 1, the Sixers climbed out of an early hole by playing some zone and slowing down the Miami offense. In Game 2, Philly played just one possession of zone late in the first quarter. And the Heat got an open, slot 3 for Herro after just one pass.
This time, it was the Heat (who also played some on Monday) that played more zone. They often showed a three-quarter-court press that transitioned back to a 2-3 zone, but they also fell back in a zone after one live-ball turnover (something you never see). And it was pretty successful, holding the Sixers to just 13 points on 12 possessions.
The Sixers probably should have known it was coming on the first play of the fourth quarter, but they still stood around for a little too long and committed a 24-second violation. Their best action against it came later in the fourth, when they were able to swing the ball to an open corner 3 after setting an inside screen on the other side of the floor …
As was the case in Game 1, the Sixers got some good looks when they moved the ball against a defense that shrunk the floor against James Harden. But they just haven’t been able to convert those open looks into enough points. The two games in this series are just the second time this season (the first time since November) that the Sixers have shot less than 30% from 3-point range in consecutive games.
3. Good defense beats good offense
While the Sixers have missed some open shots, the Heat also deserve some credit for Philly’s struggles. The Sixers didn’t move the ball much more than they did in Game 1 (the Heat actually saw a huge drop in ball movement), but they did have some purposeful possessions. And sometimes, the Miami defense was just too good …
Some purposeful movement from the Sixers here, but great defense from the Heat & both Thybulle & Harden a little hesitant to shoot c&s 3s. pic.twitter.com/UoCUJGH3Pn
— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) May 5, 2022
That possession featured a small-ball lineup from the Sixers. They were a plus-8 in 7.5 minutes with no center on the floor in Game 1, when their most-used small-ball lineup was Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green, Tobias Harris and Georges Niang. They played a little more small-ball in Game 2 (8.0 minutes), but they were a minus-2 with it on Wednesday, when two most-used small-ball lineups included Matisse Thybulle. And that possession noted above included Thybulle passing up a catch-and-shoot attempt from the corner.
The Heat played the league’s second-ranked regular-season offense in the first round, but they rank second defensively in the playoffs, having allowed just 103.8 points per 100 possessions over their seven games.
4. Comeback story
Victor Oladipo was able to play only four games for the Heat after they traded for him last year, missing the final 20 games of the regular season and all of their first-round series loss against the eventual champion Milwaukee Bucks. He had surgery on his right quad last May and was set to miss a big chunk of the 2021-22 season. But the Heat brought him back on a minimum contract and now, after playing only eight games in the regular season, Oladipo is helping them win playoff games.
Oladipo scored 23 points in Game 5 against Atlanta and (after a quiet Game 1) had 19 on Wednesday, shooting 3-for-4 from 3-point range. Five of his six buckets were assisted, with four of the six being wide-open catch-and-shoot looks on the perimeter.
But he was also shook Tyrese Maxey in transition and beat Georges Niang in isolation to get to the free throw line …
Even if Oladipo is mostly an off-the-ball guy on offense who’s not a liability on the other end of the floor, he can continue to be a valuable part of the Heat’s rotation in these playoffs. And assuming he keeps his spot in that rotation, it will take three more games for him to have played more minutes in the playoffs than he did in the regular season (173).
5. Fool me once …
On the first play of the third quarter, the Heat ran one of their favorite after-timeout plays. Jimmy Butler entered the ball to Bam Adebayo above the left elbow, Gabe Vincent cleared out the right side, and Max Strus set a back-screen for Butler above the right elbow. Harris fought through the screen and Harden read the play, leaving P.J. Tucker in the left corner to deflect Adebayo’s pass …
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Heat ran the same play with Herro as the screener. This time, Harden was guarding Butler, and he got caught in the screen, with Maxey (guarding Herro) not quick enough to switch the action. The Sixers’ defenders on the left side of the floor also weren’t ready to help and Adebayo fed Butler with a lob …
If a team goes 1-for-2 on the same play, it’s usually because the defense is ready for it the second time. On Wednesday, the Sixers were ready for it the first time and not the second.
Keep an eye out for that same action in Game 3 on Friday (7 ET, ESPN).
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John Schuhmann is a senior stats analyst for NBA.com. You can e-mail him here, find his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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