After First Loss in Weeks, How Will The Sixers Respond?

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BILL STREICHER/USA TODAY

Game 2 of the first round matchup between the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers caught many by surprise. The Heat imploded in the second half of Game 1 due to the Sixers locking up on the defensive end while also getting some of the most efficient shooting they’ve seen all season from the likes of Marco Belinelli, J.J. Redick, and Robert Covington. Ben Simmons was able to distribute 15 assists due to lazy defense from multiple Heat guards. He was able to penetrate the lane with ease forcing a collapse from helping defenders, opening up the three-point display we all witnessed.

But a different Miami team showed up in Game 2. The defensive ability of the Heat we saw in the regular season showed up and they were pressing from the half court and beyond, something the Sixers hadn’t seen very often. Kenny Smith, of the TNT halftime show, referenced that the Heat were guarding Ben Simmons at halfcourt to force him to become a scorer and reducing his penetration as a passer. This worked right into what Miami wanted. Ben Simmons had multiple offensive fouls, it was a chippy game, and the comfortability of distribution wasn’t there because of how stellar their on-ball defense was.

While this defense on Ben Simmons actually made him producer better numbers (24 points, 9 rebounds, 8 assists, and only 2 turnovers), Coach Erik Spoelstra decided he was going to shut down what hurt his team in Game 1 and that was uncontested shots. The biggest difference you saw from Miami was that they were much more aggressive on defense. They were stingy on the perimeter and forced a lot of dribbling out of JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli and didn’t really allow for clean looks off of screens like in Game 1.

Dario Saric was able to get going by scoring in a variety of ways. He and Ben Simmons, without Joel Embiid, are basically the only two players that can score in a variety of ways, which points them to being the two stat stuffers last game. All others, like a Belinelli or Covington, have to get going from beyond the three-point line before expecting other consistent production.

He had this to say regarding Miami’s intensity and what they need to change for Game 3:

““They tried to go over screens all the time and tried to breath on our necks,” he said. “They really wanted to win this game. We have two rookies on our team, obviously a couple guys in their second year. We don’t have that experience,” Saric said referring to Dwyane Wade. “But we are hungry, and we are ready to go to Miami and tell them ‘welcome to the playoffs.’ ”

The Sixers shot 7 of 36 from deep, the Heat scored at will, Dwyane Wade felt like he was in 2006, and the Sixers were still only one Wade steal away from potentially pulling out Game 2.

So what is needed from here on out for series success?

Resiliency

The Sixers were physically outplayed in Game 2. Miami caught the squad off guard with the way they shaped the game early in the first half by getting the refs gun-heavy on their whistles and being forced to play timid and out of rhythm for a lot of the contest. It seemed to get most of the Philadelphia players frustrated and out of sync on the defensive side of the floor.

Coming out in Game 3 with the same aggressive mindset as Miami did, but in the way the Sixers know, will create the most opportunities for success.

What that will require is improved defensive communication and efficiency so it can create the fast, up-tempo offense that has been key all season.

The Sixers have to follow behind the tenacity of Dario Saric and Ben Simmons as both players were able to match the physicality they faced in Game 2. Saric has continued to find his spots, produce offensively, and contribute on the defensive end. Simmons was forced to score with his opportunities and he answered. Game 3 should be no different for Saric and Simmons, the rest of the Sixers just need to match his intensity.

It’s hard to imagine that Dwyane Wade, coming off the bench, can hit 11 of 16 jumpers that were all long and contested two-point opportunities. The Sixers were still able to create runs and opportunities while only hitting seven total threes, so there is going to be further opportunity to open up the game if they are able to get hot. Despite the physicality from Miami, the Sixers won the rebounding margin, 49-46. The Sixers could potentially still be without Joel Embiid for Game 3, so the consistent effort from Ersan Ilyasova and Amir Johnson has to remain. Ilyasova had 6 offensive rebounds, while Amir Johnson grabbed seven total.

The comeback of Joel Embiid in Game 3, if not, Game 4, will have a huge impact on the Sixers needed resiliency. Embiid will help relieve some of the perimeter pressure the team experienced, and more of the game will start from the inside and progress outside, depending on his availability in minutes. The Sixers were not able to play as fast as they wanted in Game 2. With the added presence of Embiid, they will be able to answer the intensity of Miami as Embiid is one of the greatest rim protectors in the league and is a force on the low block.

The resiliency will be defined with how Philadelphia answers Miami’s scoring attack and can open up more opportunities for their shooters. Brett Brown will have an adjustment ready for the Sixers. They just need to stay consistent with what brought them 17 straight wins, and that was an array of shooters with opportunities being created by Ben Simmons and Markelle Fultz. In turn, the shooting results, like we saw in Game 1, will open up for Simmons and Fultz to create for themselves and others even further.

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