Wade turned back the clock to produce the kind of playoff performance he once delivered with regularity in his prime, scoring 28 points in just 26 minutes off the bench to even the first-round series in Miami’s 113-103 win.
It was the 76ers’ first loss in over a month and ended their 17-game winning streak.
With the Heat in need of some offensive punch, the 36-year-old Wade stepped up to shoot an efficient 11-of-16 from the field, proving he still has some big-time shot-making left in the tank, even if it’s become a rarer sight in the twilight of his career.
However, as much as Wade reminded what he’s capable of, Philadelphia shouldn’t overreact and remain in a favourable position control the series.
For one, it will be difficult for Wade to play that well again.
In Game 2, he was automatic in the mid-range, making 7-of-8 from the area, while hitting all three of his fadeaways. For the season, Wade shot just 33.5 per cent on mid-range and 34.4 per cent on fadeaways, so it’s likely he regresses to the mean next game.
Speaking of regressing to the mean, the 76ers should see a positive regression when it comes to their outside shooting.
It’s unlikely they’ll make a blistering 18-of-28 triples and score 130 points on Miami’s stout defence again, but they’re also unlikely to hit just 7-of-36 from long range going forward.
Philadelphia ranked 10th in the league in 3-point percentage during the season, converting at a 36.9 per cent clip, and they shot 39.5 per cent during their 17-game winning streak.
The Heat are stingy when it comes to guarding the 3-ball as they ranked sixth in both opponent attempts and makes during the season, but the 76ers have chosen to be aggressive from beyond the arc in the series by surrounding Ben Simmons with knock-down shooters.
Dario Saric, J.J. Redick, Ersan Ilyasova, Robert Covington and Marco Belinelli combined to hit 17-of-27 in Game 1. They collectively struggled in the loss, taking and making all of Philadelphia’s treys.
The Sixers had their worst 3pt shooting game in 4 1/2 months last night, (19%).— Marc Farzetta (@MarcFarzetta) April 17, 2018
Worst since the 16% they shot vs WAS on Nov. 29th.
But even when they’re not connecting to the extent they were in the opener, the 76ers’ shooters provide spacing for Simmons to operate as a scorer, offering an uncluttered paint to attack downhill.
The point guard had 24 points in Game 2 on 10-of-17 from the field and continued to overcome Miami’s strategy of giving him ample space to dare him to shoot.
Philadelphia’s offence may have a different look in Miami, but it would be a welcomed change as Joel Embiid could return to the court after recovering from a broken orbital bone.
The All-Star centre has been sidelined since March 28 and took to social after Game 2 to show his frustration at not yet being cleared to play.
“F****** sick and tired of being babied,” Embiid posted on his Instagram story.
Joel Embiid to ESPN on the frustration behind his IG post from earlier, “I promised the city the playoffs and I’m not on the court and I may not be on Thursday either. I wish more than anything that I was out there. I just want the green light to play.”— Ramona Shelburne (@ramonashelburne) April 17, 2018
Embiid, of course, has been treated with caution by the franchise after dealing with multiple injuries at the start of his career.
When he’s on the floor though, the 76ers are a much better team, posting a 41-22 record in games he played in the regular season and a 11-8 mark when he was out.
“When you’re seeking to become a whole team, you need Joel Embiid,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said after Game 2.
While Hassan Whiteside has barely been a factor so far in the series, playing a total of 27 minutes, the 76ers could use Embiid on both ends to alleviate pressure.
With the way Miami have hounded the ball defensively and made Philadelphia work, Embiid would be a release valve in the post, as well as someone who can create shots for others. And on the other end of the floor, the Defensive Player of the Year candidate would thwart the Heat’s slashing.
Whenever Embiid returns, the 76ers will receive a boost, but in the meantime they’re more than capable of stealing back home court.
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The San Antonio Spurs showed more fight in Game 2, but the outcome wasn’t all that different from the series opener as the Golden State Warriors, when push came to shove, took care of business with a 116-101 win to go up 2-0.
Here are four stats that stood out:
The Spurs managed to keep the game competitive… until Durant and Thompson decided enough was enough and created distance.
It was a reminder of just how loaded Golden State are – even without Stephen Curry – that when two of their stars found their rhythm, there was nothing San Antonio could do to avoid the avalanche.
And the Warriors kept feeding them too as they combined for 39 field goal attempts, while no other player that saw minutes took more than nine shots.
14.3 – Spurs’ 3-point percentage
San Antonio were money from inside the arc, converting 16-of-20 attempts in the restricted area and shooting 54.4 per cent overall on 2-pointers.
That would normally be good enough to beat a lot of teams, but against the Warriors, 3-point shooting is paramount, and the Spurs misfired on 24-of-28 triples, while Golden State hit 15-of-31 themselves.
San Antonio were not a good 3-point shooting team in the regular season and their best offensive weapon, sans Kawhi Leonard, is to feed LaMarcus Aldridge in the mid-post. Unless they create some variance by hitting 3s, this series will be a short one.
2 – Spurs’ first-half turnovers
A major reason why San Antonio led 53-47 at halftime was because they didn’t beat themselves in the first half. Like, at all.
The Spurs committed just two turnovers over the first two quarters, which led to just two points for Golden State. In the second half San Antonio were sloppier and coughed the ball up seven times, leading to 12 Warriors points.
Even though they still won the turnover battle for the game, it speaks to just how perfect the Spurs have to be to have a chance in this series.
32.6 – Aldridge’s usage percentage
The Spurs big man did everything he could to even the series and steal one on the road, scoring 34 points on 11-of-21 and looking unstoppable near the elbows and in the post.
San Antonio made the right adjustments to free up spots for Aldridge after he got just 12 shot attempts in Game 1 and the results were encouraging.
No-one on Golden State is capable of stopping Aldridge, outside of JaVale McGee for stretches, so the Spurs’ best bet is to continue putting the ball in their All-Star’s hands as much as possible.
Aldridge and his mid-range jumpers alone won’t be enough to beat the Warriors, but San Antonio have precious few options.
Indiana delivered the biggest Game 1 shock of the first round when they not only beat James and the Cleveland Cavaliers, but smoked them in a 98-80 win on the road.
It’s not exactly a revelation that Cleveland’s stay in the playoffs will be short-lived if LeBron isn’t the best player on the floor, but there’s more to this match-up than the individual play of James and Victor Oladipo, who shined in the series opener.
Coming into the match-up, the Cavaliers’ defined weakness was their defence – and that certainly showed itself on Sunday – but it was on the other end of the court where the Pacers controlled the game.
While Cleveland didn’t help themselves by missing 26 of their 34 attempts from beyond the arc, Indiana’s swarming defence proved to be a handful.
The Pacers’ collective ball pressure, combined with the pick-pocketing ability of Oladipo, bothered the Cavaliers and kept them from getting anything easy.
Cleveland is a one-way team, so engaging in a grind-it-out style of game is a recipe for disaster because of their paper-thin defence that struggles to stop anyone.
LeBron’s ability to impose his will is the great equaliser, but at some point he won’t be able to do it alone.
Giving yourself a nickname is corny in its own right. Giving yourself the nickname ‘Playoff P’ is as corny as you can get.
George splashed 8-of-11 triples for a game-high 36 points to look like the player that many thought would make the Thunder a title contender when he was traded from Indiana last summer.
He may not shoot the lights out like that again this postseason, but when George is aggressive and a threat to score, the Thunder look a lot scarier.
Especially against Utah, who have limited offensive options outside of rookie Donovan Mitchell, George can make this series much shorter than expected if he operates as a primary option.
He was passive at times in the regular season and had a rocky finish to the campaign, but if Playoff P is here to stay, Oklahoma City’s ceiling is within reach.
Horford’s all-around brilliance
The Celtics’ lone remaining healthy All-Star was at his absolute best in Boston’s thrilling 113-107 victory against Milwaukee, providing tremendous defence against Giannis on one end while being the centre of the offence on the other.
‘The Greek Freak’ will inevitably get his, as his 35 points in a decent, but not great, showing proved. But Horford made him work for a lot of his points and on several instances shut down his drives, using his length and strength to protect the rim.
Horford also made sure Giannis didn’t get to rest on defence as he posted him up at intervals, which either forced double teams or led to Antetokounmpo picking up fouls. Those fouls came into play in overtime when Giannis picked up his sixth to foul out of the game.
He’ll never be a volume scorer or an uber-aggressive player, but the perpetually underrated Horford is capable of being the main reason why Boston win this series.
Break in case of emergency
What a luxury it is to have two of the best isolation players in the league to bail you out.
That was the case in the 104-101 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves, when Harden went off for 44 points by hitting some ridiculous step-back 3s in a contest that saw his teammates make just 3-of-25 from long range.
Minnesota may have missed their best chance to steal one as it’s not likely Houston shoot that poorly again. And if they do, there’s always the other way.