Heading into this series, it was clear the Sixers had a big advantage in their bench. Miami has a couple of specialists who play a role and little else. The Sixers have a ton of scoring firepower coming off their bench, even more now that Evan Turner has exerted himself. Let's take a quick look at how each bench has fared through four games, and talk a bit about what to expect in game five.
First, a quick look at the overall production of the benches.
In terms of gross production, the Sixers bench has far outpaced Miami's. They've scored 77 more points than Miami's backups, they've grabbed 8 more offensive boards, 15 more defensive boards, handed out 9 more assists, shot a better percentage from the field, three-point range and the line. In all the counting stats, they're dominating. Unfortunately, when you look at any kind of efficiency, both benches have been pitiful. Somewhat surprisingly, though, both benches have played similar minutes in the series (340 minutes for Sixers reserves, 324 minutes for Miami reserves).
On the Sixers side, Evan Turner is really carrying the bench. He's been unbelievable in his 69 minutes of action: 36 points on 28 shots, 13 boards, 3 assists and zero turnovers. Thad was very good in game one, he's been miserable since. Overall, Lou has been pretty bad in most areas, but his turnover rate is unbelievably low. Battie has given the Sixers some decent minutes.
Of course, when you're talking about the playoffs you're typically talking about trimmed rotations and a higher reliance on your starters for heavy minutes. Looking purely at bench production doesn't begin to tell the story after you get some data. What you really need to look at is how the team performs with certain lineups on the floor. Basketballvalue.com is tracking unit-specific data through the playoffs, let's check it out: Sixers and Heat. And just for kicks, check out this list of the best lineups throughout the league during the playoffs.
The Sixers unit splits are pretty unbelievable. Their starting lineup of Hawes, Brand, Iguodala, Meeks and Holiday has an unbelievable +/- of +28 in just under 43 minutes. If you look a little closer, though (Click on "unit" to view a breakdown of that unit vs. other units over at BV.com), you'll see that the Sixers starters have outscored Miami's starters 97-60 in just over 40 minutes. The Sixers starters have been outscored 9-0 in 2.5 minutes against any other lineup.
It's not hard to figure out why. When Miami has Ilgauskus and Bibby on the floor, they're basically kickstarting the Sixers transition game. Those guys are slower than molasses. If This series was tied 2-2 right now, I'm pretty sure Erik Spoelstra would have to change up his starting lineup. I don't expect him to make that move tonight, though. If he was to switch it up, and the Heat still lost the game, he'd be answering a ton of uncomfortable questions. It would be seen as a panic move and even if it's the right move, I don't think he can afford to do it. I do, however, expect him to go to his bench much earlier if the Sixers get off to the same kind of start in game five as they did in games one, three and four.
The question isn't really what lineup will Spoelstra go with, I think it's pretty clear Joel Anthony and Mario Chalmers will get the early nod, the question is how will Doug Collins counter, or maybe if he will counter early on or if he'll try to extend the minutes of his starters. The Sixers have tried 12 different lineup combinations against the Anthony, Bosh, James, Wade, Chalmers unit, and there's a definite pattern we need to pay attention to. When the Sixers have two bigs in the game (Brand and Hawes, or Battie and Brand or even Hawes and Battie), they've played Miami even (16-16 in 17 possessions), when they've gone small, with Thad at the four, they've been outscored 46-19 in 32 possessions. This is something Collins needs to look hard at. I think if Anthony and Chalmers are, in fact, the first two guys off the bench for Miami, Collins can't go with his knee-jerk reaction and bring Thad in for Hawes. He needs to either stick with Hawes and Brand up front, or sub in Battie for one or the other.
One other counter I'm hoping we'll see tonight is Collins going smaller than small. Miami has obviously figured out how to beat their small lineup with Thad at the four, but as we saw in game four, they didn't have as much success handling an even smaller lineup. Brand, Iguodala, Turner, Williams and Holiday. Spread them out and attack the hoop.
When the dust settles, if the Sixers are going to win, they're probably going to need two of Lou, Thad and Turner to turn in quality games off the bench, and the third guy can't be too much of a negative. That's probably the formula when you get past the specific unit matchups.