The Miami Heat have mostly stymied James Harden in the Eastern Conference semifinals, outside of his 31-point outburst in Game 4. That one was a vintage performance from the 2018 MVP. He’s averaging 19.6 points and 6.6 assists per game.
Credit a great defensive gameplan employed by head coach Erik Spoelstra on a player he has a great amount of respect for. He’s thrown the kitchen sink at Harden, guided by sterling efforts from P.J. Tucker who has been ducking under picks to keep up. And Victor Oladipo, Gabe Vincent, and Max Strus have given them Herculean minutes on Harden.
But Spoelstra is smart enough to know it’s a game-by-game thing when defending Harden. He can create instant offense with that patented step-back jumper, at any unannounced moment in any given quarter.
“Depends on the moment, depends on the quarter, depends on the game, like he’s an MVP,” Spoelstra said when asked about stopping Harden. “It requires your full respect, attention to detail, and then you simply have to just make incredible multiple efforts, not give up on plays ever and do it with incredible detail and discipline. He’s that good. It depends. Sometimes that’s what competition is all about, especially in the playoffs. Sometimes they get you and sometimes you get them, that’s what’s it’s all about, who can get who to blink.”
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Trying to Close Out the Series in ‘That Place’
The Heat are heading back to Philadelphia on Thursday night for Game 6 with a chance to close out the series. It won’t be easy, not in one of the most hostile arenas in professional sports. The Sixers are 4-1 through the first two rounds this year at Wells Fargo Center.
“You have to have deep respect for going into that place,” Spoelstra said of playing in Philly, “and I want all of our guys to embrace it. It’s going to be a rocking environment. If you’re a competitor, you just love these kinds of moments, and you treasure it. These are the kind of moments that you remember years from now. I want all of our guys to be able to experience that and enjoy that.”
Yes, the Heat are bringing a lot of momentum following their 35-point blowout win in Game 5. Will that be enough to carry them to a huge road win?
“It could,” Spoelstra said of momentum. “I think we have enough experience that we understand that it doesn’t necessarily translate to the next game.”
Jimmy Butler Details Friendship with Joel Embiid
Jimmy Butler has never shied away from letting his respect for Joel Embiid known. The two have remained tight over the years after briefly sharing a locker room together in Philly back in 2019. Butler and Embiid talk every day even in the middle of a heated playoff battle, another powerful testament to the brotherhood of the NBA.
“I talk to Jo every day. Even before this series, that’s my guy. That’s a brother to me,” Butler said of Embiid. “It’s a privilege to play against him. Obviously, to be on the same team with him, as I was in the past, but damn you want to be able to play against the best, and have an opportunity to beat the best. And hold that over one another’s head for years to come. But after basketball, that’s still going to be my guy.”