The Sixers (43-27) hosted the Miami Heat (47-24) on Monday night in the second leg of a back-to-back. Philadelphia intended to recover from a bad loss to the Toronto Raptors on Sunday night. Miami planned to push its winning streak to 3 games. Tyrese Maxey scored 13 points in the fourth quarter to lead the short-handed Sixers to an upset of the Heat, 113-106.
Before we get to what I saw, some context is due.
The Heat were without Victor Oladipo, who is suffering from right lower back spasms. Gabe Vincent was also out with a right big toe contusion.
Kyle Guy (Two-Way) was on assignment with Miami’s G-League affiliate and was unavailable.
Erik Spoelstra started Kyle Lowry, Duncan Robinson, Jimmy Butler, PJ Tucker, and Bam Adebayo.
The Sixers were without Joel Embiid (back soreness) and James Harden (left hamstring), who were given the night off for injury management purposes.
Myles Powell (Two-Way) and Jaden Springer were on G-League assignments with the Delaware Blue Coats and were unavailable. Springer also had a sore left groin.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, Georges Niang, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Paul Millsap.
The game plan from tip-off appeared to be centered around getting Tyrese Maxey as many shots as his arms could shoot. Midrange pull-ups, transition threes off the dribble, acrobatic layups — it didn’t matter, Maxey was content to pull the trigger at every touch. And that should be the case in an environment in which neither Joel Embiid nor James Harden are playing. Worst case scenario, you have an off night and a team that had no expectations of winning doesn’t win. Best case scenario, you go off, make national highlight reels, and pull a win over the East’s top-seeded team.
Maxey played like a youngster who was well aware of the risk-reward profile of the game. Despite being professional basketball players, many of his teammates occupying key roles don’t seem to grasp the risk-reward profile all that well. Maxey had no conscience in shooting, and you wish there were more than 5 or 6 guys on the roster who operated under the same mindset.
Furkan Korkmaz broke out of his shooting slump in a big way, scoring 10 points on 4 shots in 9 minutes of play. He notched a pair of triples, one coming off of great ball movement to the left wing and the other coming from the top of the key to beat the shot clock. Korkmaz also leveraged a variety of shot- and pass-fakes on one particularly fluid drive to the interior before kissing a smooth layup off the glass. It doesn’t undo the putrid stink fest he’s put forth for the vast majority of the year. But, the Sixers are so thin at the wings that seeing if it’s more than just one game of magic isn’t the worst idea in the world.
Shake Milton was more than willing to answer the call for the Sixers in this game. His lack of growth as a three-point shooter is pretty disappointing. But, his midrange game is quite polished. Milton is particularly adept at creating just a foot step of space and then fading for midrange jumpers. His arms are long enough that the shot is virtually unblockable if he creates that one step of space.
He gets away with an elbow to the ribs to escape his defender from time to time. But, that jumper within the free throw line is sneakily quite efficient given his capacity to hit it consistently. When Milton wasn’t getting to those midrange jumpers, he held no punches getting right to the cup for shots at the rim. Even if the first look didn’t fall, Milton was there to leverage his length and follow his shot so that he could still get the bucket even off the first miss. Milton didn’t take a shot in any of the 3 previous games. He took 18 en route to 20 points and 6 assists off the bench on Monday.
Maxey ended the game just like he started it — taking the shots. But, there was no fear with the game hanging in the balance. First quarter or fourth quarter, it didn’t matter. Maxey did what he always does — took risks because he trusts his preparation. And when the Sixers needed
someone anyone to step up and carry them to victory against a top-seeded conference foe, it was just another opportunity for Maxey.
They say that the pressure of being a 1-seed in the NCAA tournament is a privilege. And the young guard operates with that same mindset. Whether it was gliding to the rim for a tough finish over lurking defenders or draining a pair of triples off the bounce to close out the victory, Maxey seized yet another opportunity. He scored 13 of his 28 points in the fourth quarter to lead the Embiid-less and Harden-less Sixers to the winner’s circle.
The team is thin on the wings as is. With James Harden out, you’re looking at the dimensions of a tooth pick at the guard spots. That being said, it’s probably not a good thing that you can look at the starting lineup and not know which player is supposed to be the shooting guard.
Paul Millsap had an opportunity to finish off an up-and-under layup through traffic. But he remembered he was 37 years old, and threw the ball in a near-perfect vertical line for an airball. That’s something of a metaphor for Philadelphia’s situation at rotation backup center. I said “rotation” because the only 2 centers to whom Doc Rivers is willing to give any chance are DeAndre Jordan and Paul Millsap. Their best days may pre-date the Trump administration. They are not physically equipped to play meaningful minutes on an NBA contender anymore.
I can understand if Rivers wants to have a veteran to stabilize the locker room. That’s fine. But, take a page out of the current foe’s book. Udonis Haslem gets in for emergency situations or garbage time. The rest of his time is spent being a coach on the active roster. Just because you have veterans doesn’t mean you have to play them.
It certainly leaves much to be desired when your second highest-paid player only has 7 field goal attempts at halftime. As rough of a year as Tobias Harris has had this season, 2-for-7 at halftime when the two best players on the team aren’t available is utter nonsense Harris looked petrified of touching the ball in crunch time on Sunday night. And on the very next night, in an environment with lowered expectations, he didn’t look much better.
The best version of the 29-year-old forward has to operate in a 7-seconds-or-less mindset. 2 dribbles per touch. If the jumper isn’t there off the catch, attack the basket with purpose instead of meandering until someone else comes to your aid. Of course, we’ve written this story how many tens of times this season? At this point, the only thing that’s going to change is Harris’ commitment to doing what’s best for the team at the risk of being uncomfortable with the style of play.
Jordan, by the way, almost cost the Sixers in back-to-back nights. Given some minutes in the fourth quarter, Jordan played up far too high on Tyler Herro out of pick-and-rolls. The high coverage allowed screeners to slip behind Jordan for lob finishes. It wasn’t as if he adjusted after the first lapse. It happened again. You could make the case that a helper didn’t come over to tag and stop the screener. That may be the first fault upon review of the film. But, the Heat went to the play specifically when Jordan was on the court. They got dunks out of it.
Before the game, Rivers said that Paul Reed and Charles Bassey would probably be the beneficiaries of some minutes in this game. Reed played 2.8 seconds to end the first half. Bassey registered another DNP. Let the young guys play.
The Sixers (44-27) will visit the Los Angeles Lakers (31-41) on Wednesday night. Tip-off is scheduled for 10 PM, Eastern time. You can catch the action on ESPN.