Philadelphia extended its win streak into the 2017-18 NBA playoffs, pounding Miami 130-103. Here are three takeaways from a game that proved Philadelphia is all grown up.
Ben Simmons Is for Real
The Process’s fearless leader certainly was not paralyzed the way rookies often are coming into playoffs—though, remember, Simmons is no traditional rookie. He picked off defenders one by one on the way to a stat line just short of a triple-double: 17 points, 14 assists, and nine rebounds. The Heat threw the kitchen sink at Simmons, giving players across all positions a chance at defending the Sixers point guard. There weren’t many solutions, but you couldn’t blame the Heat for trying:
(Poor Kelly Olynyk fell victim to that mismatch a number of times.) Those attacks to the basket were representative of Miami’s larger issue defensively. They simply were not able to keep up. Simmons pushed the pace like only a hyper-athletic, 6-foot-10 point guard can. The Sixers followed the lead of their young star; there were no signs of the playoff yips with Simmons, and there weren’t any with the rest of Philly, either.
The Third-Quarter Adjustment (of Death)
The asterisk to Simmons’s performance is the same it’s been all season: no outside shots. He’s already proved that his perimeter deficiency can be used to his benefit, but that ran up against the notion that playoff basketball is different, that teams can strategize properly in a best-of-seven series. And perhaps that’s coming, but it was the Sixers that made the first major adjustment of the series. Brett Brown did Simmons (and himself, and the Sixers, and all of Philadelphia) a solid coming out of the half by surrounding him with shooters at every other position.
Brett Brown swapped in Ersan Ilyasova at center to start the third quarter in place of the more traditional Amir Johnson, and it changed everything. With Ilyasova, Robert Covington, J.J. Redick, and Dario Saric flanking Simmons at all sides, the Sixers were able to neutralize Simmons’s … selective shot selection. The same applied to fellow rookie Markelle Fultz when he was on the floor. Brown struck gold by sticking at least four capable marksmen on the floor at all times. Surrounding Simmons with shooters was astute, and Philly’s generally pass-happy offense meant a lot of good looks from guys who have no hesitation hoisting the ball up. The Sixers were historically accurate in Game 1:
In their first playoff game in nearly six years, the Sixers casually put on the fourth-most efficient 3-point shooting performance in NBA playoff history (minimum 25 attempts). https://t.co/VzHkiT3Q59— Danny Chau (@dannychau) April 15, 2018
Saric, Marco Belinelli, and Redick won’t hit four 3s apiece every game this series, sure. But Philadelphia can top that with the return of Embiid.
Miami Didn’t Get Its Money’s Worth From Its Stars
The stakes for Hassan Whiteside were high entering the playoffs, his last chance to make a difference after an injury-riddled season that often left him the odd man out in Miami despite his enormous paycheck. Whiteside played 12 minutes tonight. Take a guess from his playing time how it’s going for him so far.
Philadelphia did none of the Heat defenders favors, but Whiteside stuck out especially, a 7-foot sore thumb who couldn’t defend in space when the Sixers opted out of playing a traditional center. Without Joel Embiid on the floor, Whiteside had no place in the game. Erik Spoelstra’s alternative lineups had a far better chance at countering the Sixers, whether that was Kelly Olynyk and James Johnson, Bam Adebayo, or Justise Winslow. Thirty-six minutes on the bench, two points, and six boards—that’s Miami’s max player.
Speaking of low return on high investment, Goran Dragic finished with 15 points. He had little success with his bread-and-butter attacks to the basket, walking off the court at halftime 2-for-8 from the field. He hit only two more shots the rest of the night. The Heat dedicated a combined $41 million this season to Dragic and Whiteside. Who knew that would only yield 17 points in Game 1?