Sixers observations

3 observations after Maxey's fantastic night leads Sixers to chaotic win over Heat 

Maxey posted 37 points and 11 assists in the Sixers' tight win.

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The Sixers breathed a collective sigh of deep relief Thursday night after a second consecutive 109-105 victory.

They earned this one thanks largely to Tyrese Maxey, who was fantastic in their win over the Heat at Kaseya Center.

Maxey had 37 points, 11 assists and nine rebounds. Joel Embiid added 29 points.

Terry Rozier scored 22 points and Jimmy Butler recorded 20 for the Heat.  

In addition to tying their season series with Miami at 2-2, the Sixers' victory boosted their chances of moving into the Eastern Conference’s top-six and avoiding the NBA’s play-in tournament. These are the standings following Thursday’s game:

  • 6. Pacers — 43-34 
  • 7. Heat — 42-34 
  • 8. Sixers — 42-35

The Sixers were without Tobias Harris (left knee contusion), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress), Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise/illness) and Mo Bamba (illness). Miami’s Tyler Herro and Josh Richardson were sidelined by injuries as well. 

ESPN’s Tim Bontemps reported Thursday night that the Sixers signed Jeff Dowtin Jr. for the rest of the season. The 26-year-old point guard began this year with the Delaware Blue Coats, signed a two-way contract last month, and has made seven appearances so far with the Sixers. Dowtin had 41 points and eight assists Thursday in Delaware's playoff loss to the Maine Celtics.

The Sixers’ final two road games of the regular season will be Saturday night against the Grizzlies and Sunday against the Spurs.

Here are observations on their win in Miami:

Sixers’ star duo starts as dynamic as ever 

Following a two-game absence with left hip tightness, Maxey looked fresh and thrilled to finally be sharing the floor with Embiid again.

On the Sixers’ first play, Maxey took an Embiid handoff, zoomed to the rim and laid the ball in. The Sixers decided to run that same set for several possessions in a row and enjoyed the results. Kelly Oubre Jr. broke free off a back screen for an easy dunk on their second play. Maxey drained a pull-up three-pointer to stretch the Sixers’ lead to 10-0. 

Embiid showed little early rust in his second game back from a left meniscus injury. He found his scoring groove immediately after a Miami timeout, nailing two elbow jumpers and a top-of-the-key three.

Embiid also got a layup in the first quarter when Bam Adebayo fronted him in the post and Nicolas Batum threw one of his beautiful high-low passes. If everyone stays healthy, it’ll be intriguing to watch how intuitive, versatile veterans Batum and Kyle Lowry work alongside Embiid in the postseason. 

Though Miami had some success with Embiid sitting, Maxey grabbed control of the game again with two driving layups and a step-back three. 

As a duo, Maxey and Embiid had 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting, four assists and zero turnovers in the first quarter.

Runs galore  

The Sixers’ 16-point lead evaporated in a hurry.

Cameron Payne committed two costly turnovers late in the first quarter against the Heat’s full-court pressure and Miami kept rolling early in the second. Haywood Highsmith banked in a three, Butler and Kevin Love scored inside, and Miami was on top by the midpoint of the second period. 

The Heat played effective zone defense during that spurt. Buddy Hield and Lowry missed two long-range jumpers apiece in the first few minutes of the second. Embiid was off a couple of attempts from the high post, too. The Sixers settled for jumpers and didn’t put much pressure on Miami’s interior defense.

There were still more dramatic ups and downs to come in the second quarter. Paul Reed gave the Sixers good minutes against Adebayo and the Maxey-Embiid combination picked up right where it had left off. The Sixers surged to another 16-point advantage with a 20-1 run that featured Embiid sinking a pick-and-pop three and converting an and-one finger roll off a Maxey dish. 

Miami then closed the second quarter on an 8-0 run. Embiid had his first giveaway of the night, Rozier capitalized with a buzzer-beating pull-up three, and the Heat’s deficit was eight points when the dust settled at halftime. 

Oubre, Sixers' defense come through in clutch again

Embiid did not play extended stints and his fatigue became increasingly apparent, though he continued to drill well-guarded jumpers in the third quarter.

However, Embiid went scoreless over the game's last 18 minutes and 13 seconds and provided well below his peak level defensively.

Embiid's personal decline from the first to the second half made the shorthanded Sixers' issues off the bench more glaring. Hield was 0 for 6 from the floor Thursday and received only 12 minutes.

Meanwhile, Love was outstanding for Miami and knocked down a three early in the fourth quarter that extended the Heat's lead to 95-87. Love posted 11 points and 16 rebounds on the night in 19 minutes.

The Sixers hung around and then some without Embiid in the fourth quarter. They played solid zone defense, Miami's shooters went cold, and Oubre shined just as he'd done down the stretch of the Sixers' win Tuesday over the Thunder. His corner three lifted the Sixers to a 103-102 lead.

While Embiid came up empty on his last two jumpers, the Sixers' defense got them to the final buzzer of a gritty, thrilling victory.

Oubre did strong work on Rozier and nabbed a timely steal that he turned into a fast-break layup. Butler's go-ahead three-point try on Miami's chaotic final possession was long and the Sixers ultimately edged out the Heat in a topsy-turvy contest.

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