The Philadelphia 76ers still haven’t clinched the No. 1 seed in the Eastern Conference. It’s just a formality at this point but a double-digit loss to a team you might see in the second round of the playoffs is certainly cause for alarm.
The Sixers fell to the Miami Heat 106-94 on Thursday night in a game that was out of reach after the first quarter. Jimmy Butler — hey, remember him? — scored a game-high 21 points for the East’s No. 5 seed after showing up on the injury report with an eye contusion. The Heat led by as many as 26 points in this one, leaving the Sixers to ponder their own mental toughness in the post-game locker room. Philadelphia could have clinched home-court advantage throughout the playoffs with a victory. No dice.
“You would have thought they were the team playing to punch the No. 1 seed,” Sixers forward Tobias Harris said. “We didn’t bring it tonight from the start of the game and their energy from the start, that showed throughout the game. So we just got to get our focus and energy level up to where it needs to be, and we can’t have games like this at this point of the year.”
Sixers head coach Doc Rivers was even blunter in his assessment. When asked for his take on the night’s proceedings, Rivers gave a brutally honest answer. What did his team take? “We take an a** whooping.”
He continued: “They just beat us every way. They were better prepared. They played harder. They were more into it. You can’t get it back so you just move on.”
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Joel Embiid Looked Way Out of Sorts
All-Star center Joel Embiid was a game-time decision heading into Thursday’s game. He had been dealing with a non-COVID illness, but decided to join the starting five after warming up with no problems.
The Miami Heat threw the kitchen sink at Embiid, jamming him up in the post with constant double teams all night, then unleashed Bam Adebayo on him at the offensive end. The Sixers’ MVP candidate looked out of sorts and finished with six points in 25 minutes. He couldn’t catch a break.
After the game, Rivers dismissed that the poor showing how anything to do with Embiid’s health. He wouldn’t have thrown Embiid into the fire if he was hurt.
“I’m assuming everyone’s fine tomorrow and we wouldn’t play him [Embiid] if he wasn’t 100-percent,” Rivers told reporters. “Joel … nobody played well. I would love to say it was Joel, Ben [Simmons, or Tobias [Harris] … we all played bad. We all looked like we were stuck in the mud tonight. No explanatation for it but that’s how it looked.”
Harris was the high man for the Sixers against Miami with 21 points. Danny Green added 11, with Shake Milton chipping in 12 off the bench.
“Joel wasn’t feeling like himself lately but he came in and played tonight and did what he could,” Green said. “Trying to figure out how to get out of double teams, so we’ll make adjustments on that. But outside of that, we got to push the pace and let our defense transtion into our offense.”
Udonis Haslem, Dwight Howard Mix It Up
Perhaps the biggest highlight of the evening came early in the second quarter. Heat veteran Udonis Haslem hadn’t seen action in nearly five months but he checked in with 59.3 seconds left in the first quarter. Less than three minutes later, Haslem was gone. Ejected after picking a fight with Sixers backup center Dwight Howard.
“If this is the last one, I finished it the only way Udonis Haslem could — with an ejection,” Haslem said, via The Associated Press.
Haslem will likely be left off the Heat’s playoff roster after 17 incredible years in South Beach. His final stat line on Thursday: 2-for-2 from the field, four points, one rebound, two technicals, one ejection, in about 2-1/2 minutes.
The entire game was a phsyical one as Embiid mixed it up with Heat forward Trevor Ariza in the first quarter. Those two got into a heated exchange on the court with, perhaps ironically, Haslem coming in to intervenve as a peacemaker. The Heat were clearly out to send a message from the jump that they will be a force to be reckoned with in the postseaon.
“I think every team that we play against is trying to send a message to us,” Harris told reporters. “We’re the No. 1 team in the East, so any team that we have gone up against has tried to send a message to us.”