It’s rare for a head coach to watch tape on a team he might play in the next round on the same day he hopes to close out a first-round series. Yet that’s exactly what Doc Rivers did hours prior to Game 6 in Toronto. Rivers sat back in his office and decided to turn on some Miami Heat highlights, just in case.
He knew the turnaround time was a short one should the Philadelphia 76ers advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals. Which the Sixers did following a resounding 132-97 victory on Thursday night. Next up are those “grown men” from South Beach.
“We’re going to go play grown men,” Rivers said after Game 6, “and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Heat are the No. 1 seed in the East and tied for the third-best record in the NBA this season. They were tormented by injuries and COVID-19 all year but kept finding ways to win. They are one of the deepest teams in the league, slapping together a makeshift lineup of G Leaguers and undrafted rookies at times. It worked.
“They got a lot of depth with a lot of undrafted players that come off the bench and can give them some good minutes,” Danny Green said. “They shoot a lot of threes, they shoot it well, got a couple of guys who are All-Star caliber players … they have a lot of guys who can score in bunches. So we have to figure out a way to slow them down, stop them, and offensively kind of wear on them a little bit.”
Miami led the league in 3-point percentage (37.7%) thanks to contributions from guys like Max Strus, Gabe Vincent, Caleb Martin, and a rejuvenated Victor Oladipo. The Heat is led by former Sixer Jimmy Butler and All-Star center Bam Adebayo, along with Sixth Man of the Year candidate Tyler Herro.
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Heat-Sixers Starts in Miami on Monday, May 2
Rivers revealed players would have the day off on Friday as the Sixers look to heal their bodies following a physical six-game series versus Toronto. The team is expected to fly down to South Beach on Sunday night. Game 1 is scheduled for Monday night (May 2) at 7:30 p.m.
“Going to play Miami down there, we needed a day off,” Rivers said. “And the coaches won’t [be off] tomorrow, I’ve already told them but the players certainly will.”
The Sixers and Heat split their regular-season series two games apiece, with each squad stealing a road win. All four games were incredibly close: Heat 404, Sixers 400. Joel Embiid and James Harden sat out the last one (Philly won 113-106) while Jimmy Butler missed the first game (Miami won 101-96). Both teams head into their best-of-7 playoff series with some lingering health issues.
Butler sat out Game 5 of the first round with knee inflammation. Heat guard Kyle Lowry missed two straight contests in that series with a hamstring injury. Meanwhile, Embiid has been playing with a torn ligament in his right thumb. And Charles Bassey (right shoulder sprain) hasn’t appeared in a single game this postseason.
Joel Embiid: ‘Toronto Prepared Us Extremely Well’
The Sixers could have ended their first-round series almost a week ago — in Game 4, on April 23 — and saved themselves a ton of sleep by sweeping the Raptors. They didn’t. Instead, they dropped two straight games and wound up traveling back up to Toronto.
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise. According to Joel Embiid, that extra time on the court actually prepared them for Miami.
“I think Toronto actually prepared us extremely well for them because they basically have the same schemes,” Embiid said. “They’re going to switch everything, they got a big fellow [Bam Adebayo] that can guard one through five so this was a good preparation for us. But we know what we got to do as long as we take care of what we can control. It’s just playing hard offensively and defensively, and moving the ball and rebounding the ball, we’ll be fine.”
The Sixers also need to guard the three-point line at all costs. That has been Miami’s bread-and-butter throughout the playoffs and regular season.
“The guys that they have on the floor, the way that they execute offensively,” said Tobias Harris, “and shoot the three-ball and all the movement that they do, we know it’s going to be a challenge for us that we’ll gameplan for and get ready for. But that’s our next task and that’s who we got to get ready for, and just be ready to embrace the challenge.”