After a defensive masterclass by the Heat in Miami, the Eastern Conference semifinal series returns to Philadelphia on Thursday night (7:00pm Eastern; 12:00am UK), where the Sixers will be fighting for their playoff lives.
If the Heat come anywhere close to replicating their Game 5 performance, they’ll not only notch the first road win of this series, but become the first team to punch its ticket for the conference finals.
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Where to watch Miami Heat at Philadelphia 76ers on TV:
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Tuesday night in Miami, the Heat made no mistake. Behind 11 points apiece in the opening 12 minutes from Jimmy Butler and Max Strus, the Heat held a 31-19 after the first quarter. They held that same lead at halftime, and extended to 15 after the third quarter, before obliterating the Sixers in the fourth (39-19), and cruising to a 35-point win.
Offsetting quiet performances from Sixth Man of the Year Tyler Herro (10 points) and star big man Bam Adebayo (12) were not only Butler (who finished with a game-high 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists) and Strus (19 and 10 rebounds), but the role players: Gabe Vincent (15 points on just seven shots), P.J. Tucker (10 points and seven assists) and Victor Oladipo, who scored 11 of his 13 points in the second quarter.
Then there was the defense, which held the Sixers to just 36.5% shooting overall, including just 28.1% (9-of-32) on 3-pointers. Miami forced Philly to rely disproportionately on isolation and one-on-one play and stifled ball movement, as evidenced by the Sixers’ total of just 14 assists for the game.
Miami shackled every Sixers perimeter threat, holding James Harden, Tobias Harris, Tyrese Maxey, Danny Green and reserve Shake Milton to a combined 50 points (on a brutal 16-of-49 shooting) and seven assists (with 11 turnovers). Even with Joel Embiid at his dominant best, that kind of inefficiency is too much to overcome. With Embiid – who, we should remember, is playing with both a torn ligament in his shooting thumb and a fractured bone in his skull – having a quiet night (17 points, five rebounds) it gets you run off the floor.
As we saw in Games 3 and 4, though, the Heat (save for Butler) don’t always play like this. The last time this series shifted to Philadelphia, the non-Butler Heat combined for just 42 points on 55 shots, Miami failed to reach 18 points in three of four quarters, and lost by 20. Two days after that, Miami wasted an ultra-efficient 61 points from Butler (40 on 20 shots) and Bam (21 on 12 shots)allowed Harden, Maxey and Harris to combine for 62 points.
As the series returns to Philly the Heat will again be without point guard Kyle Lowry (who also missed Game 5), who tried to return from a hamstring injury for Games 3 and 4, but was severely diminished. However, Lowry is not the only banged-up member of the Heat, as Herro, Martin, Strus, Tucker and Vincent are all listed as ‘questionable’ on the team’s injury report.
At the time of writing, each player’s status hasn’t been announced, but the expectation is that most (if not all) will play. Provided the non-Butler contingent – namely the healthy duo of Bam and Victor Oladipo – offers some help to the Heat star, the knocks are unlikely to impact the game’s result.
That’s because, the first time the series moved to Philly, the Sixers enjoyed the emotional and tangible boost of Embiid’s return to the lineup. This time, they return home having gotten destroyed, with their ailing superstar in lineup, having done little to help him.
This has the feel of a team that knows it’s gone as far as it can go.
Heat predicted starting lineup: Gabe Vincent, Jimmy Butler, Max Strus, P.J. Tucker, Bam Adebayo
Notable injuries: Kyle Lowry (hamstring; out); Tyler Herro (ankle; questionable); Caleb Martin (ankle; questionable); Max Strus (hamstring; questionable); P.J. Tucker (calf; questionable); Gabe Vincent (knee; questionable)
76ers predicted starting lineup: Tyrese Maxey, James Harden, Danny Green, Tobias Harris, Joel Embiid
Notable injuries: Joel Embiid (thumb, orbital; questionable, but expected to play); Matisse Thybulle (foot; questionable)
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