Sixers observations

3 observations after Sixers storm back, earn thrilling play-in win over Heat 

The Sixers will take on the Knicks in the first round of the playoffs.

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The Sixers rescued themselves from a bleak situation and climbed into the first round of the NBA playoffs Wednesday night.

They stormed back to earn a thrilling 105-104 play-in tournament win over the Heat at Wells Fargo Center. 

The Sixers’ victory means they’re now the Eastern Conference’s seventh seed and have a first-round playoff matchup against the Knicks on deck. Game 1 of that series will be Saturday at 6 p.m. ET in New York.

Joel Embiid posted 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists.

Nicolas Batum was absolutely tremendous in a 20-point performance.

Miami's Tyler Herro had 25 points and nine assists. Jimmy Butler recorded 19 points and five assists.

Here are observations on the Sixers' dramatic win in the franchise's first ever play-in action: 

Sixers’ offense woeful across the board in first half 

Defense ruled the night in the early going. 

Both teams had frigid shooting starts; the Sixers and Heat combined to begin 3 for 15 from the floor and 0 for 8 from three-point range. Embiid air-balled his first pull-up jumper attempt. 

Kyle Lowry was ready to roll against his former team and helped the Sixers seize a quick lead. He played strong, disciplined defense on Butler and also poked a steal away from Herro, which led to a Tyrese Maxey fast-break layup. Lowry later hustled to snag a short Kelly Oubre Jr. runner, giving the Sixers an extra chance that ultimately resulted in Embiid drawing Bam Adebayo’s second foul. 

Miami fronted Embiid and sent steady double teams at him after Adebayo subbed out and Kevin Love entered. Embiid handled that well when he waited for the Heat’s help defense to commit and then set up a Maxey three, but Butler caught him off guard on the Sixers’ next trip. The six-time All-Star snuck in to steal the ball from Embiid and coasted down the court for a slam. 

That turnover was one of the Sixers’ seven in the first quarter. Maxey had consecutive giveaways late in the first against the Heat’s zone and the Sixers’ decision-making was often deliberate and shaky. It was an uncharacteristic stretch for a team that finished the regular season with the NBA’s lowest turnover percentage. Miami scored 17 of the first half’s 19 points off turnovers.

The second quarter didn’t start any better for the Sixers. They continued to be exceedingly tentative vs. the Heat’s zone, lofting risky passes, dallying until late in the shot clock, and failing to convert the open looks they did create.

Tobias Harris was booed heavily after an air ball that dropped the Sixers to 2 for 11 from three-point range. The boos were back a couple of minutes later when he missed several put-back layup tries in a row. A Haywood Highsmith layup gave Miami its first double-digit lead. 

Bench lifts Sixers back into game

The Sixers wound up missing 14 of their first 16 three-point attempts.

By 30 seconds into the second quarter, Oubre, Lowry and Embiid all had two fouls. Sixers head coach Nick Nurse still opted to keep his rotation short, using only Batum, Paul Reed and Buddy Hield off the bench in the first half. Hield played just four minutes in the first half and was not the zone-buster the Sixers could’ve used. 

After averaging 19.1 points over the Sixers’ last 22 regular-season games, Oubre went scoreless in his 19 first-half minutes.  

Meanwhile, the Heat’s second unit scored the evening’s first 15 bench points. While Miami also didn’t have anywhere near its finest offensive showing, the Heat’s jumpers all began falling late in the second quarter. Three-pointers by Delon Wright, Herro and Caleb Martin built Miami’s lead to 51-37. Fittingly, the Sixers wrapped up their abysmal first half with a missed Embiid layup.

To Hield and Batum’s credit, both players had pivotal roles in a third-quarter Sixers spurt that cut the Heat’s lead as low as two points. 

Each hit crowd-pleasing three-pointers and defended well as the Sixers collectively ramped up their intensity. Cameron Payne also looked the part of a veteran with big-game experience, subbing in for the first time with 68 seconds remaining in the third quarter and promptly nailing a corner three. 

Batum heroic, Embiid delivers late

The Sixers scored the fourth quarter’s first five points and knotted the game at 74-all on an Embiid triple. 

Hield blew a golden chance to put the Sixers up, missing a layup during an especially frenetic, chaotic period. However, Batum had them ahead soon.

When Embiid drew a swarm of Heat defenders in the middle of the floor, he dished to Batum on the wing and the French forward delivered again. Later, Batum pump faked in the corner and calmly set himself up for another three.

He ended the night 6 for 10 from long range. Outside of him, the Sixers were 6 for 25.

The Sixers held a one-point lead when Embiid re-entered with 6:06 left in the fourth quarter. Though Miami posted the next four points, Batum then reached his season scoring high by swooping in to put back a Maxey miss. He typically adds tons of value in ways besides scoring, but the Sixers sorely needed offense Wednesday and the poised 35-year-old came up huge.

Batum was the Sixers' primary defender on Butler during the second half. The Sixers closed with Harris on the bench.

Just when they required something special from Embiid, he produced it. Embiid sunk a top-of-the-key three and made a tricky second-chance, and-one leaner.

And when Miami doubled him beyond the arc, Embiid rifled a pass through to Oubre. His and-one hoop gave the Sixers a 99-96 lead with 36.0 seconds left.

The Sixers didn't squander that advantage. Batum blocked a game-tying Herro three-point try and the Sixers drained their clutch free throws. They'll enter Round 1 vs. the Knicks on an NBA-best nine-game winning streak.

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