3 observations after Harden misses potential game-winner, Sixers fall to Heat


The Sixers fell to a second straight painfully close loss Monday night at Wells Fargo Center.

Down two points on the game's last possession, Joel Embiid (27 points, 12 rebounds) kicked the ball out to James Harden (20 points, 12 assists) behind the three-point arc. Harden's open game-winning attempt was just long and the Heat escaped with a 101-99 victory.

Jimmy Butler led Miami with 23 points, 11 rebounds, nine assists and four steals.

Dewayne Dedmon was out with left hip soreness against his former team. Miami’s Kyle Lowry sat a ninth straight game because of a left knee injury. 

The 39-21 Sixers will play the Heat again on Wednesday night in the first game of a five-game road trip. Here are observations on another very tight defeat:

Déjà vu early on the boards 

The Sixers’ chances of a fourth-quarter comeback in Game 6 of their second-round playoff series last year against the Heat were slim. Still, the team getting badly beaten to several offensive boards is a lasting memory from the Sixers' final game of 2021-22. 

The stakes were much lower Monday, but the team's first-quarter rebounding performance was similarly poor. Miami grabbed the game’s first nine offensive rebounds, including three by Butler. After a Butler put-back layup and a Tyler Herro dunk set up by a vintage, long-range Kevin Love outlet pass, Miami held a 17-13 lead. 

Perhaps the Heat got a fortunate bounce or two, but the Sixers lacked urgency and physicality against an opponent that’s not an offensive rebounding juggernaut. Though the Heat came into the game 19th in the NBA in offensive rebounding rate, per Cleaning the Glass, they were regularly quicker than the Sixers to react to misses. It’s generally fine for the Sixers not to do anything risky in terms of crashing the offensive glass so that they don’t compromise their transition defense. However, there’s no good reason any team should pick up eight offensive rebounds against them in 12 minutes like Miami did Monday. 

In addition to all those extra possessions, the Heat benefited from a relatively hot three-point shooting start. Butler, who’d attempted a single three-pointer over his last three games, made an early attempt. So did Love, who then scored against Georges Niang on Miami’s next possession. Ironically, Niang was called for his second foul late in the first quarter on an aggressive box-out. 

Sixers’ first-half turnovers fuel Heat 

The Sixers fell far behind in the old-fashioned “possession game” because of their sloppiness with the ball.

They turned it over 11 times in the first half and Miami had a 14-0 advantage at intermission in points off turnovers. After Harden lost the ball trying to navigate through a crowd on the perimeter, Caleb Martin went the other way for a dunk that put the Heat up 50-40.

Tyrese Maxey committed one of those giveaways when he was called for carrying late in an aimless possession. Maxey’s one first-half basket was an off-balance, desperation three with the shot clock about to expire. The Sixers briefly asked him to lead an all-bench lineup late in the first quarter, which didn’t go well. 

Paul Reed and PJ Tucker again shared the Sixers’ first-half backup center minutes. Tucker had a nice stretch late in the second quarter when he pulled down a defensive rebound and drained a corner three on the Sixers’ ensuing possession to cut their deficit to 50-48. 

The Sixers then allowed Butler and the Heat to rip back momentum, in large part through basic lapses. Veteran big man Cody Zeller beat everyone down the court for a layup immediately after Tucker’s three. Following an Embiid turnover on a one-handed pass attempt out to Harden, Butler coasted in for a dunk. He hit a turnaround jumper over Tucker on Miami’s final first-half possession and the Heat went into halftime with an eight-point lead. It felt worse for the Sixers given how often they’d hurt themselves and how pronounced a possession edge Miami had. 

Butler and Miami eke it out

Embiid subbed out approximately midway through the third quarter after Butler drew the fourth foul on the Sixers’ All-Star big man. 

The team's deficit didn't expand with Embiid out almost entirely thanks to Maxey, who scored 23 points on 8-for-16 shooting in 28 minutes. He zoomed in for two fast-break layups, hit a couple of threes, and played with the freedom and aggression that Embiid (and all the Sixers) like to see. 

De'Anthony Melton continued to start and posted six points on 2-for-8 shooting, three rebounds, two assists and two blocks. 

The Sixers predictably struggled to stop the Heat once Embiid exited. Their zone defense didn't trouble Miami and Bam Adebayo, on a night he shot just 4 for 14 from the floor, made two jumpers over Reed. 

Though they went down 11 points on two Max Strus foul shots with 7:10 remaining, the Sixers made a spirited, high-paced comeback surge with both Maxey and Melton on the court. Maxey knocked down another three and Melton's and-one layup trimmed the Heat's lead to 95-93.

Tobias Harris appeared to injure his left leg in the backcourt on that play and went back to the locker room, but he returned a little over two minutes later. Harris seemingly avoiding a serious injury was clearly good to see for the Sixers, though he checked in because Butler managed to draw the sixth foul on Maxey. In his 35 minutes, Harris had only two points (1 for 4 from the floor) and five rebounds. 

The Sixers finally pulled a point ahead after an Embiid mid-range jumper and two Harden free throws. Both offenses were scratchy down the stretch, but Butler made an incredible play when he drove through traffic and converted an extremely tough reverse layup. He also got fouled on a jumper attempt by Harden and split two free throws before the Sixers' unsuccessful final possession.

Just like last postseason against the Sixers, Butler ultimately did enough to haul the Heat to victory.

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