‘Those things can't happen': Sixers' basics must be better than in Game 1


MIAMI — After a Game 1 postseason loss, the notion of "Just a few easy, doable adjustments and we’ll be fine” can be attractive.

Though the Sixers’ situation is unenviable — down Joel Embiid (right orbital fracture and concussion) and down as many as 21 points in Monday’s defeat — it’s indeed not ludicrous to think there are basic ways they can raise their chances of beating the Heat without their franchise cornerstone.

The team knows that Game 1 contained numerous fundamental breakdowns.

Tyler Herro, who was named the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year on Tuesday, notched 25 points and seven assists.

“We lost him several times,” head coach Doc Rivers said before the Sixers' Wednesday morning shootaround at FTX Arena. “The game is so (much about) single possessions, and I think he had three times where we literally lost where he was at — probably not the right guy to lose, would be what I would say. He got three — he made them all — but point-blank shots in transition. Those things can’t happen.

“But they won’t happen tonight. That doesn’t mean he won’t play well, but he won’t get those shots — or he shouldn’t. And you’ve got to guard him. He’s the one guy on their team that is really good with the basketball, that can take you off the dribble, can shoot off the dribble. He’s a very important cog to what they’re doing.”

James Harden on Monday night identified turnovers and defensive rebounding as areas within the Sixers’ power. Miami had a 22-9 points-off-turnovers advantage in Game 1. The Heat grabbed three offensive boards on a single third-quarter possession that eventually ended with Paul Reed’s fourth foul.

“Two things that we’ve been preaching even from last series,” Harden said. “If we can control those things, we’ll be better in Game 2 and give ourselves a chance.”

The Sixers made 6 of 34 Game 1 three-point attempts. Their only worst performance percentage-wise this season was a 7-for-41 outing in a March 5 loss — also in Miami.

Rivers said Tuesday he thought “a lot of our looks were rushed.” Harden and the Sixers had a few nice moments in the first half pushing the ball up the floor and then finding a screen or two that would let the 10-time All-Star face a weaker defender than P.J. Tucker (like Herro).

In half-court offense, though, Rivers doesn’t want the Sixers to fixate on matchup-hunting.

“I thought we spent time trying to pick on certain defenders on their team way too much, and it paralyzes your offense,” he said. “It’s funny, I was just watching a game and I think (ESPN analyst) Jeff Van Gundy was talking about it. The other team had a bad defender and whoever they were playing kept trying to pick on him. He said, ‘If they keep doing that, eventually they’re going to be paralyzed.’ And I thought we spent the whole game trying to pick who we wanted to play against instead of running our stuff.”

Miami’s full-court pressure, defensive variety, and physicality both on and off the ball all troubled the Sixers.

Still, some of the solutions shouldn’t be advanced.

“We had our bigs in the dunker spot too much because of breaking the press,” Rivers said. “But then when we tried to run the offense, our guards didn’t call them out to run our offense. There’s a couple of things we absolutely can do differently with our bigs to get us in the right spots.”

Unless Rivers is bluffing brilliantly and wholeheartedly, he still sees DeAndre Jordan as worthy of key minutes.

Asked Wednesday why he felt Jordan’s second half Monday was better than his first, Rivers curiously elided the fact that Jordan is part of the Sixers’ defense that struggled in the 33-year-old’s game-opening stint.

“You look at the first half, he didn’t have a lot to do with why we were down. They scored every time,” Rivers said. “But he just played freer. And I thought (Paul) Millsap gave us some good minutes, as well. I thought Paul Reed gave us some good minutes. But again, when you watch the tape, any of those three had very little to do with why we were losing or why we were ahead in the game. But we’re going to need more from all of them.”

Regardless of how the center position shakes out, Game 1 gave the impression that the Sixers’ best players must be great and the team must nail the simple things to win with Embiid absent.

Though the Sixers used 11 players before garbage time, it doesn’t appear the team has an embarrassment of bench riches.

“They’re just a deep basketball team,” Rivers said of the Heat. “They’ve done a good job with that. The fact that Duncan Robinson didn’t even play tells you how deep they are.

“We’re not as deep as they are. We knew that coming in, and that’s fine. But the guys we have on the floor can play with anybody. And they may play more minutes due to it, but we’ll be fine that way.”

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