36 minutes just doesn't cut it when you're playing a team like the Heat. The Sixers matched them step-for-step through three quarters. Answered every run, threw in a couple of their own, beat them at their own game, but when the Heat put their foot on the gas in the fourth, the Sixers just had nothing left in the tank. No answer at all. (
Here is your rotation chart. Note the run that ended with the game tied in the third quarter, when Collins brought Meeks in for Jrue. Then note every rotation after that:
It's easy to look at the fourth quarter in this game and say that's obviously when the Sixers lost it, but I think it happened earlier. The Sixers played a great first half, with two mental lapses and some really bad luck. They executed their game plan nearly to perfection, forcing Wade and LeBron to both score inefficiently, limiting Bosh's touches completely, taking care of the ball (only 3 turnovers in the first half), sharing the ball and scoring pretty much on par with their season average (OFR was 106.52 in the first half). The mental lapses were two wide-open looks for Chalmers from three, the bad luck was Norris Cole hitting a couple of threes. Twelve points that should never have been, but they were only down four after the first 24, you can live with that.
The game turned, in my mind, when the Sixers came out and upped the defensive intensity to start the third. They completely stoned the Heat for the five minutes of the third. It was a carbon copy of what they did to the Bulls and what they've done to so many teams this year. A blitzkrieg on the defensive end, smothering the ball handlers, challenging every shot, making their opponents settle for terrible looks. This was the stretch where the Sixers have broken teams' wills all season long. This is where they go on 12-0 runs and never look back. This is where they put teams away. Tonight, they managed only four points of their own over the stretch (a Jrue layup and two freebies by Meeks). They opened the quarter running a couple of plays for Brand, setting him up for easy looks, but he missed. Jodie got two wide-open looks at threes, he missed both. Jrue missed a contested 17-footer, a 10-footer and a shot at the rim. They had their opportunities, but they just couldn't convert. Give the Heat defense credit, they didn't make things easy for the Sixers. That five minute stretch was the game, though.
They played pretty much back-and-forth for the rest of the quarter, but in the final stretch of the quarter, the odds caught up to them. LeBron James' jumper caught fire, he hit three long twos, none of which were really clean looks, and sandwiched an offensive board/putback in the middle. James scored their final eight points, the Sixers matched every point, but you can't trade hoops with this team. The lid was off the basket for Miami at that point, and it stayed off. If they had converted on their opportunities early in the third, well, then the Heat would've had to expend energy climbing back into it, instead of just trading hoops to maintain their lead. It might've been a different story.
It figures the Sixers would face the Heat immediately after their two best games of the year (the blowout win over Atlanta, and the blowout win over the Bulls), and maybe it's a good thing. Maybe these sobering losses came at precisely the right time to refocus the team on how they need to play to win games, especially against the better teams. They won't have a lot of time to dwell on this one, it's a quick flight down to Atlanta for a matchup against the 16-7 Hawks Saturday night. The well-rested Atlanta Hawks, at that.
Player of The Game:
Thad gets it. If there's a positive to come out of this game, especially if they wind up facing the Heat at some point in the playoffs, it's that Thad had a very, very good game against a team that gave him problems last season. Lavoy Allen played some really solid minutes as well. Jrue would've gotten the POTG for his defense (had he not lost Chalmers a couple of times) or for his distributing (7 assists, 0 turnovers, had he not shot 5/13 for 11 points).
We Really Needed You, Where Were You? Of the Game:
Elton Brand, he just wasn't a factor at all tonight. Pretty soon, this is going to be reserved for Spencer Hawes who has been cleared to return but is sitting out on his own timetable. Lou Williams showed up once the game was decided. I don't think he threw a single pass through the first three quarters.
at ATL, later tonight.