20 Second Timeout is the place to find the best analysis and commentary about the NBA.

Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Embiid and Harden Disappear as Heat Rout 76ers

There has been a lot of talk about the 76ers gaining momentum after winning two home playoff games, and about Joel Embiid being fired up because it has been reported that Nikola Jokic will soon be named the 2022 NBA regular season MVP. NBA playoff games are not won by talk but by action, and in game five the actions of the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers spoke volumes: the Heat won 120-85 to take a 3-2 lead and push the 76ers to the brink of elimination. Jimmy Butler led the way with 23 points, nine rebounds and six assists, but he had a lot of help: all four of Miami's starters scored at least 10 points each, and two Miami reserves also scored in double figures. The Heat shot .536 from the field, and they outrebounded the 76ers, 46-36. The Heat set the tone at the start--leading 31-19 at the end of the first quarter--and they ended the game emphatically, outscoring the 76ers 39-19 in the fourth quarter.

The Heat deserve credit for taking care of business and for showing that they are quite worthy of being the number one seed in the East. There will be more opportunities to talk about the Heat in depth, but this game revealed a lot about the 76ers. Actions speak louder than words. When Hakeem Olajuwon was upset about David Robinson winning the 1995 regular season MVP, Olajuwon obliterated Robinson during their head to head playoff matchup. Miami center Bam Adebayo is a very good player but he is no Robinson. If Embiid is who he says he is and who he wants MVP voters to believe him to be, then this series is his opportunity to prove it by dominating Adebayo and leading Philadelphia to victory.

Embiid finished game five with 17 points on 7-12 field goal shooting, five rebounds, and no blocked shots. He was passive at both ends of the court, in marked contrast to how he played in the previous two games. There is no question that Embiid is one of the most talented big men in the NBA--and we know that he is playing hurt, but he is not the first and will not be the last star player playing hurt in the playoffs: Giannis Antetokoumpo came back from a knee injury to produce 50 points, 14 rebounds, and five blocked shots in game six of the 2021 NBA Finals to carry his Milwaukee Bucks to a championship.

Compare 50-14-5 in game six of the NBA Finals to 17-5-0 in game five of the second round. There is no comparison, and the gap between those two sets of numbers represents the difference between talking about being great and doing what it takes to be great.

The 76ers' second leading scorer in game five was James Harden, who resumed his "concert tour" with a May 13 date (i.e., he shot 5-13 from the field). Harden had 14 points, six rebounds, four assists, and four turnovers. In game four, Harden proved that there is nothing wrong with him physically, and that he can still get his shot off at will, so we understand that his game five disappearing act is related to his mentality, not his physical abilities. With the season on the line for all practical purposes, and the 76ers within striking distance at halftime, the player who Daryl Morey compared favorably to Michael Jordan as a scorer shot 1-5 from the field in the second half. However, Harden proved that he is a two-way player--in the worst way--by disappearing at the other end of the court as well: if being the last player back on defense were an "advanced basketball statistic," Harden's game five performance would be one for the record books--and when the soon-to-be $200 million man is indifferent about getting back on defense, that losing attitude permeates the team. Whether or not you approve of or like their methods, Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant pushed their teammates to achieve greatness. Harden has a track record of encouraging his teammates to cultivate losing habits. It is not a coincidence that serious-minded, dedicated players like Chris Paul and Russell Westbrook could not stand playing with Harden.

Before the game, TNT's Chris Haynes stated that Embiid had been quiet all day, that Embiid was upset about being not being named MVP, and that Embiid is acting like someone who wants to prove something. Let's just say that Haynes does not have a future as a fortune teller or as someone who is proficient at interpreting body language. During the game, after it became clear that Embiid and his 76ers were going to lose meekly without offering much resistance, Haynes tried to backpedal from his original take, and suggest that Embiid's pregame mood may have been a sign that he was disengaged. Haynes stated that he even asked 76ers' staffers if Embiid was ill, but they made it clear that Embiid is not ill. 

When will media members understand that this is who Embiid is? He missed the first two full seasons of his career due to injury, and in the subsequent six seasons he has proven that he is (1) still injury prone and (2) unable to lead his team past the second round of the playoffs.

Throughout the game, Philadelphia Coach Doc Rivers could be heard pleading with his team to play harder. As TNT's Charles Barkley said, it is not good when a coach has to beg his team to play hard in game five of a 2-2 series. None of this should surprise anyone. The 76ers are a team that did not "tank to the top," but rather a team that was built by developing losing habits, and thus a team that never cultivated a winning culture, let alone a championship culture--and the recently acquired Harden fits right in, because he quits and pouts when he does not get his way, which is why he is playing for his third team in the past two seasons.

After the Celtics swept the 76ers in the 2020 playoffs, I wrote, "Tanking does not promote, cultivate, or develop a winning culture, so it is no surprise that a team built by tanking lacks mental toughness; the 76ers are frontrunners who rely on raw talent, but they do not maximize their talent, and they fold when they face adversity. This is a predictable outcome from tanking, and indeed I predicted this from the start, in contrast to the overheated praise many media members heaped on Sam Hinkie, the creator of 'The Process.'"

In contrast, under Pat Riley the Heat have built a winning culture. Stars come and go, but the expectations do not change, the attention to detail does not change, and the commitment to excellence (to borrow Al Davis' phrase) does not change. It is not a coincidence that LeBron James won two titles during his four Miami Heat seasons, and two titles during his other 15 seasons; his other teams catered to him and his whims, while the Heat insisted that James embrace the Heat way. After he won two championships with the Heat, James preferred to go elsewhere and resume doing things his way. When Riley referred to "No more smiling faces with hidden agendas," you did not need a decoder ring to know that he was talking about James

All you need to know about these two franchises and their divergent methods of team building/player evaluation is that in 2019 the 76ers traded Butler to the Heat in exchange for Josh Richardson. Butler did not fit in with the program that the 76ers were building; Butler led the Heat to the 2020 NBA Finals, while the 76ers are poised to lose in the second round or earlier for the fifth straight season.

Could the 76ers win at home to push this series to a seventh game? Anything is possible, but the 76ers not only have to overcome Butler and the Heat but also their own flawed psyches: a game six win at home means facing game seven in Miami, and if game five showed us anything it showed us that the 76ers have little interest in competing in Miami again this season.

Labels: , , , , , ,

posted by David Friedman @ 11:53 PM



Post a Comment

<< Home