The Miami Heat beat the Philadelphia 76ers, 129 to 101, on Thursday night. Here’s what you need to know:
- Jimmy Butler had 24 points, six rebounds and three assists in 29 minutes, and Tyler Herro poured in 24 points on 7 of 17 shooting (5 of 8 on 3s) in a comfortable win.
- The Heat, who entered the game making 37% of their 3-pointers over the last 10 games, went 18 for 39 (46.2%) on 3s in this one. Four different Heat players (Herro, Max Strus, Kyle Lowry, Kevin Love) made at least two 3-pointers.
- After Joel Embiid’s layup put the 76ers up by one with 3:44 left in the first, the Heat used a 31-12 run that included six made 3-pointers to take an 18-point lead midway through the second quarter. They’d go up by as many as 33. Embiid and Harden did not play most of the fourth quarter.
- With the win, the Heat clinch the Southeast Division for the ninth time in the last 13 seasons.
The zone worked against Joel Embiid
There’s a chance this isn’t the last time these teams meet. By winning, the No. 6 seed is still in play if the Heat win out (at Washington, vs Orlando) and the Nets drop their final two games against Orlando and Philadelphia. That would result in a first-round matchup between the sixth-seed Heat and third-seed 76ers. Or, if the Heat take care of business in the play-in tournament, earn the No. 7 seed and somehow win their first-round matchup against the Celtics, they’d likely face the 76ers in the second round. If either scenario plays out, this game could be instructive.
On Thursday, we saw Miami’s strategy for defending Embiid. After playing more 2-3 zone than any team in the league, the Heat shelved the scheme for a while but dusted it off for this one against Embiid and the 76ers. While Embiid was still productive (21 points on 9 of 13 shooting in 30 minutes), he was still slowed by the zone (he’s averaging a league-leading 33.3 points per game).
Where the zone was most effective was in slowing Embiid’s teammates. James Harden, in particular, struggled to get comfortable and shot just 41.7% overall and coughed up three turnovers in 27 minutes. As a team, the 76ers shot 27.8% from 3-point range.
In the zone, the Heat were able to keep Embiid and the 76ers shooters in front of them. When Embiid got the ball in the middle of the floor, Miami’s defenders pinched to force Embiid to get rid of the ball. When he passed out, they were in position to close out. Embiid finishing with just two assists is telling.
Should they meet in the postseason, the 76ers will be more prepared and, frankly, more engaged. Though this game was meaningful for the Heat, it was meaningless for the 76ers and they played like it. Still, the strategy is sound, puts more pressure on Philadelphia’s role players and, most importantly, makes things difficult for Embiid.
Highlight of the game
Just that kind of night…