The 76ers (52-30) moved within one victory of their first playoff series win since 2012 after holding off the Heat 106-102 in Game 4 in Miami on Saturday, sweeping the two games in South Beach. J. J. Redick did not end his perimeter shooting funk but had 24 points, including a key bucket and a pair of free throws in the final minute, and Ben Simmons became the first rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 to record a triple-double in the postseason after adding 17 points, 13 rebounds and ten assists.
Philadelphia, who have 19 victories in their last 20 games overall, also won despite tying a postseason franchise record with 27 turnovers that led to 30 points for Miami. Simmons had seven of them and Joel Embiid had a team-leading eight, but the 76ers negated nearly all of those points by scoring 23 themselves off 19 Heat turnovers, outscoring them 27-13 at the foul line and amassing a 57-43 edge on the glass.
Only 11 teams in NBA history have rallied from a 3-1 series deficit, but Miami (44-38) are one of those teams, doing so against the New York Knicks in the 1997 Eastern Conference semifinals. But if that is to happen, the Heat need to overcome the breakdowns that plagued them on both ends of the court in the fourth quarter of both losses.
Miami were outscored 59-33 in the final periods of Games 3 and 4, scoring just one point in the first 3:18 in Game 3 and being held scoreless over the opening 3:47 on Saturday. Dwyane Wade scored ten of his 25 points in the final 3:47 as he tried to steal a second game in this series for the Heat, but even with center Hassan Whiteside making his first meaningful contribution in this series with 13 points and 13 rebounds, it was not enough.
Should the Heat stave off elimination, the series will return to Miami for Game 6 on Thursday night.
Three keys to the game
76ers all too familiar with squandering 3-1 leads - The 76ers are the only team in NBA history to blow two 3-1 series leads as they were the first team to earn the dubious distinction after the Boston Celtics rallied past them in the 1968 Eastern Division finals, and the Celtics did it again in 1981 behind Larry Bird, who rallied them from six down in the final 4:30 to win a decisive Game 7 in the conference finals.
Wade realizes what he is up against - As a 15-year veteran with three NBA titles to his credit, Wade has seen and done just about everything a Hall of Fame player can see and do in a storied career. And while the 36-year-old has rolled back the years twice in this series with impressive performances as Miami's go-to scorer, he also recognizes how good this young 76ers team is.
"They're good. They're special," he told the Sun-Sentinel. "They're a good group and they put the right team together. I've said that multiple times. Ultimately, sometimes the playoffs become too big for certain guys or some guys don't know how to match the intensity of the playoffs, or whatever the case may be. They play that way already. They already play to that intense level."
Embiid set for home postseason debut - After sitting on the sidelines while Philadelphia split their first two playoff games since 2012 and being a key contributor in helping them sweep a pair of games at Miami, Embiid will make his highly anticipated home playoff debut in Game 5, further adding to the frenzy in a city that has been swept up in watching "The Process" progress to another level with this remarkable late-season surge.
While Embiid went just two of 11 from the field in Game 4, he again got to the foul line repeatedly and made ten of 13 free throws. He has hit 20 of 28 from the charity stripe in his first two playoff games and also has eight blocked shots.
Matchup to watch
PF James Johnson vs PG Ben Simmons - This is how much of a matchup problem Simmons creates for the Heat, who are relying on their starting power forward as their first option to slow down the rookie point guard. Justise Winslow will also see time guarding Simmons, and Josh Richardson will also likely get a few turns as the team's best perimeter defender.
Richardson, though, is a risky selection because Philadelphia have so many spot shooters. If one player gets going from 3-point range, that can snowball quickly against the Heat.
Simmons has taken just four of his 56 shots in this series from beyond 14 feet and one of those was an end-of-quarter heave. Miami have tried laying off him to try to make him take jumpers, which has not worked, and Simmons is strong enough at 230 pounds that he is hard to move out of the mid-post when the Sixers start their offense with someone else and let him make a horizontal cut into the lane.
It would not be surprising to see Heat coach Erik Spoelstra throw the kitchen sink at Simmons with an elimination game and try a smaller player to guard him because a defender can at least make the effort to deny him three-quarters in the mid-post and get help over the top on the lob entry pass.
Miami Heat projected starting lineup
PG - Goran Dragic | SG - Tyler Johnson | C - Hassan Whiteside | SF - Josh Richardson | PF - James Johnson
Philadelphia 76ers projected starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - J. J. Redick | C - Joel Embiid | SF - Robert Covington | PF - Dario Saric
Simmons continues to be a must-play for DFS purposes with series averages of 19.3 points, 10.8 rebounds, 9.8 assists and 2.5 steals while shooting 51.8 percent. With numbers like that, it is very easy to ignore the 4.8 turnovers per game.
While Embiid likely will get another double-double, Dario Saric may be the better play as the Heat continue to struggle to find a defensive matchup to neutralize him. Saric, though, is coming off his worst game of the series with 11 points and eight rebounds after hitting just four of 13 shots in Game 4, but he did total 43 points and make seven of 16 from 3-point range in the first two games in Philadelphia.
For the Heat, trust Whiteside at your own risk. The 13 points and 13 rebounds on six-of-nine shooting looks nice, as does the series-high 26 minutes he logged, but it is still hard to figure out what the seven-footer will give on a game-in, game-out basis, especially in an elimination game where Wade and Goran Dragic will be the primary offensive options and move Miami away from the dribble-handoffs where Whiteside thrives.
Wade and Dragic is an either/or proposition since both will likely wind up around 20 points and five assists. Dragic took only two fourth-quarter shots Saturday and still wound up with 20 points, while Wade has alternated sub-par games with sublime ones. The sub-par ones took place in Games 1 and 3, so if you are into patterns, beware.
The 76ers are 9.5-point favorites for Game 5, with the line moving one-half point in Miami's direction since it opened. Philadelphia will look to extend a trend in which the favorites have gone 4-1-1 in the last six meetings.
The Sixers have plenty of trends in their favor, covering in four of their last five overall and against Eastern Conference opponents, and have posted an 11-2 mark against the spread in games coming off a win against the spread. Philadelphia are also 20-7 versus the number in their last 27 home games and 20-8-1 in their last 29 versus Southeast Division foes.
Miami are 3-8 against the spread in their last 11 overall and 3-7 in their last ten against conference rivals but sport a 19-9-2 mark versus the number in their last 30 road games. They are also 19-7-1 in their last 27 road games when facing a team with a home winning percentage above .600.
The over/under has also moved one-half point, down to 211, and while the over has gone 6-2 in Philadelphia's last eight against conference opponents, it is 2-6 in their last eight first-round playoff games. The under is also 7-2 in Miami's last nine first-round postseason contests, but the over has a 10-4 mark in their last 14 road games and gone 5-2-1 in their last eight versus Atlantic Division teams.
"We have to finish it. We have to be locked in for that game coming up. We've got to ... take care of what we have to take care of."
Those of the words of Simmons to Philly.com as his precocious 76ers prepare for their first closeout game together. The rookie had a clutch drive and dunk with 58 seconds to play Saturday to help keep Miami at arm's length and put an exclamation point on his first playoff triple-double.
Every game has been a learning lesson for Philadelphia, from the physical play when refs' whistles are swallowed to the skirmishes to the double technicals when they don't back down to how they have executed in the fourth quarter in all three of their wins and when they failed to execute in the Game 2 defeat.
The 76ers have averaged 31.8 points in the fourth quarter during this series, but two statistics really stand out. One is they have a 3.63 assists-to-turnover ratio with 29 assists to eight turnovers, and every time the individual game ratio is 2:1 or better, they have won. The other is they have made more free throws (28) than the Heat have attempted (18) in the fourth quarter.
And that is while taking ten more 3-pointers than the Heat in those fourth periods (31-21). This means Philadelphia are executing as a team with poise when it matters. They missed all five of their 3-point shots in the fourth quarter Saturday, but they did not attempt one in the final 6:23. That is strong shot discipline for a team with four starters in their first playoff series.
The 76ers are making the Heat beat them, and as much as Miami are clawing and fighting them down the stretch of these games, except for Game 1, Philadelphia are making more winning plays. This game likely will be no different, with Wade keeping the Heat in contention before Simmons and Embiid step up and deliver in the crunch.
"The Process" will advance with a 112-106 victory as the 76ers will play in the conference semifinals for the first time since 2012.
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