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Thursday, April 18, 2024

76ers Cool off Heat to Clinch East's Seventh Seed, Heat Will Host Bulls to Determine East's Eighth Seed

The Philadelphia 76ers do not have vintage Joel Embiid as the 2023 regular season MVP works his way into form after having knee surgery, but good enough Joel Embiid was sufficient for them to beat the Miami Heat, 105-104. The 76ers earned the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference and the opportunity to face the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. Embiid scored a team-high 23 points, grabbed a game-high 15 rebounds, and dished for five assists, but he shot just 6-17 from the field and did not block a shot. His game lacks explosiveness and force, although he still is able to use his size and strength to make plays against smaller defenders. Nicolas Batum provided a huge lift off of the bench with 20 points while shooting 7-12 from the field, including 6-10 from three point range. Tyrese Maxey added 19 points and a team-high six assists, while Kelly Oubre Jr. was the only other 76er who scored in double figures (11 points, plus eight rebounds). 

Tyler Herro scored a game-high 25 points (including 16 in the fourth quarter) and passed for a game-high nine assists, but he shot just 9-27 from the field. Jimmy Butler slipped in the first quarter and suffered a right knee injury that caused him to limp for the rest of the game. He finished with 19 points on 5-18 field goal shooting in 40 minutes, but it has been reported that Butler will have an MRI and may be out indefinitely after his knee tightened up as the game progressed. All-Star center Bam Adebayo hauled in a team-high 12 rebounds, but he scored just 10 points while looking undersized and overmatched despite Embiid's obvious current limitations. 

The Heat led 23-22 after the first quarter, and the Philadelphia boo birds emerged in full force as the 76ers sleepwalked through the second quarter. The Heat were up by as many as 14 points before settling for a 51-39 halftime advantage. Batum drilled three treys in the third quarter as the 76ers won that stanza 30-23 to narrow the deficit to 74-69 entering the fourth quarter. Embiid had 11 points, four rebounds, and two assists as the 76ers outscored the Heat 36-30 in the fourth quarter. The score was tied 96-96 with just 36 seconds remaining when Embiid dished to Oubre for a layup that became a three point play after Butler fouled Oubre. The 76ers led the rest of the way, closing out the game by hitting their last seven free throws (including the free throw from Oubre's three point play).

The up and down Heat have reached the NBA Finals in two of the past four seasons but have also relegated themselves to the Play-In Tournament for two consecutive years. They will play the Chicago Bulls on Friday night to determine the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bulls gained the right to play the Heat by beating the Atlanta Hawks, 131-116.

Coby White scored a game-high 42 points on 15-21 field goal shooting, outshining both of Atlanta's more celebrated guards. Nicola Vucevic added 24 points and a team-high 12 rebounds, while DeMar DeRozan had 22 points plus a team-high nine assists. Dejounte Murray scored 30 points and passed for six assists for the Hawks, while his backcourt mate Trae Young had 22 points on 4-12 field goal shooting, 10 assists, six turnovers, and a game-worst -27 plus/minus number. Young's first quarter performance was historically bad: one point, five turnovers, and a -18 plus/minus number while playing all 12 minutes. I understand that Young is recovering from a hand injury, but those numbers would be awful even if he played blindfolded with one arm tied behind his back, and ESPN's Richard Jefferson correctly pointed out that bad decision making was a much bigger issue than Young's hand.

The Chicago-Atlanta matchup was everything that I expected/feared would happen when the moveable object meets the resistable force: the Bulls raced out to a 40-22 first quarter lead, but only had a 73-67 halftime advantage. If Hubie Brown had done the color commentary for this game, he might have set a personal record for saying "Will you please...?" followed by "play defense," "pay attention to the cutters," "stop turning the ball over," "stop taking low percentage shots," and so forth. 

The Bulls reasserted control by winning the third quarter much the same way that they dominated the first quarter; this time, the margin was 37-25. The teams traded baskets in the fourth quarter until Young hit a meaningless three pointer at the 24.8 second mark; in the old CBA that shot would have mattered because it enabled the Hawks to "win" the fourth quarter 24-21, but here it just provided a fitting end to the Hawks' season with Young drilling a logo three to wrap a game that his team still lost by 15 points. 

Under normal circumstances, I would not give the Bulls much of a chance to beat the Heat in Miami in an elimination game, but if Butler is out of action then it may be tough for the anemic Heat offense to generate enough points--and the Heat would also miss Butler's leadership and defense, even though they went 13-9 without him during the regular season. Butler is a tough guy--I can think of several current players who are considered big name stars who would not have gutted out Wednesday night's game the way that he did--but once the next day swelling sets in and the MRI results are known the team may have no responsible choice other than shutting him down.

Although the Heat eliminated the Boston Celtics in last year's playoffs, that outcome seems highly unlikely even if Butler's knee is OK and the Heat send the Bulls packing; this Heat team is not as deep as last year's Heat, and this season's Celtics are much more talented than last year's Celtics while also appearing to be tougher and more focused.

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posted by David Friedman @ 12:56 AM



At Thursday, April 18, 2024 9:21:00 AM, Blogger beep said...

I agree, what Heat did last year is not sustainable, and they were this close to be the first team to lose with 3:0 advantage, if not for Boston choking. Even though they fiercely resisted Boston to the end and did good enough to get 4th win in the end.


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