Game 2 Preview: Sixers Seek 2-0 Advantage
The Philadelphia 76ers (1-0) and Miami Heat (0-1) continue their first-round playoff series on Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Make sure to listen live on 97.3 ESPN with coverage beginning at 8pm.
The Sixers are in search of their 18th consecutive win and their 25th win in the last 26 games in Philadelphia. Saturday's series opener featured a close first half, but the second half belonged to the Sixers, who walked away with a 130-103 win and a 1-0 lead in the best of seven series.
With Joel Embiid still on the mend, the Sixers were led by their veterans on Saturday night in their first playoff game in six years. JJ Redick scored a game-high 28 points while Marco Belinelli had 25 off the bench. Ersan Ilyasova played a good bit of time at the center spot due to Hassan Whiteside's inability to cover the perimeter, finishing with 17 points and 14 rebounds. Ben Simmons fell a rebound shy of a triple-double (17p, 14a, 9r) while Dario Saric contributed with 20 points and six rebounds.
Sixers still finding success sans Embiid
Let's be clear. Once Joel Embiid returns to the Sixers lineup, Philadelphia is going to be more dangerous than it already is. After Embiid went down with a fractured orbital bone and a concussion on March 28, dreams of the three seed and 50 wins started to fade in some people's minds. Not for the rest of the Sixers, though. They powered through the final stretch of the season, winning nine in a row without Embiid (inlcluding game 1 against Miami). Now ruled out for game two, getting Embiid back for the games in Miami could be huge, but Brett brown reiterated that the focus is on Joel's health, not him coming in to save the day. Embiid cleared NBA's concussion protocol over the weekend.
"If it was my decision, I would play, but I can't get back out on the court if I don't have the OK from them," said Embiid. "But everything has been going well. I've been able to do everything. And I feel great. So we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3. We gonna see how it feels in the next couple of days."
Through the final eight games of the regular season without the big man in the lineup, the Sixers still led the NBA in rebounds (50.4), were 2nd in offensive rating (112.6), defensive rating (97.1) and net rating (15.5), while ranking 3rd in field-goal percentage (.498).
Three-point shooting a key to success
When Joel Embiid is in the lineup for the Sixers, plays are drawn up for him in the post and the game slows down a little bit. When he isn't in the lineup, three-point shooting takes center stage for a Sixers team that finished in the top-10 in three-point shooting during the regular season. In the first game of the playoffs for Philadelphia, they shot a phenomenal 64.3 (18-for-28) percent from beyond, which was highest among all teams through the first game of the first round. Here's a look at the Sixers three-point shooters from game one.
- JJ Redick: 4-for-6
- Dario Saric: 4-for-6
- Marco Belinelli: 4-for-7
- Ersan Ilyasova: 3-for-7
- Robert Covington: 2-for-4
- Furkan Korkmaz: 1-for-1
Out of all of the guys shooting threes in the playoffs and regular season for Philadelphia, Dario Saric has been the most improved. After shooting just 31.1 percent from downtown last season, The Homie finished the 2017-18 season with a 39.3 percent line from beyond the arc, including a 45.9 percent mark during the month of March.
“I came here, I needed to adjust to the new three-point line, new game, new teammates — everything was more tough for me,” Saric told Philly.com. “The first time I got a couple months off, I got time to improve my game and I worked on that. Coach told me: for your future, the three-point shot will be big.”
Covington's defense continues to shine
It feels like not too long ago, fans were ready to call for Robert Covington's head due to his inability to shoot consistently. The thing is, Covington's specialty has never been his three-point shooting, it's been his defense, and that showed once again in game one against the Miami Heat. Tasked with the assignment of guarding Heat All-Star Goran Dragic, Covington helped hold Miami's point guard to a 4-for-14 shooting night from the field. In four games this season against the Sixers, Dragic made under 35 percent of his shots when guarded by Covington.
"We came in and watched how they were scoring easy, and then we made a few adjustments," Covington told Philly Voice after the win. "It started with me telling everybody, look, we got to finish up, finish plays, they can't get nothing easy. Guys just bought in, you [saw] it from the third quarter on. It was a different level."
Head coach Brett Brown wasn't afraid to praise the former Hinkie signing after the game.
"I thought he was unbelievable. I thought he was a man," said Brown. "Physically sliding his feet, blocking shots, hands on balls, he's deceptively strong, and he's so versatile a defensive player. He can sit down and guard Dragic, or go over and he may get caught on Olynyk and he can guard that too."
Covington may have only finished with nine points, but he had seven rebounds, four assists and three blocks in an impressive defensive display.
Brandon Apter is a contributor to 97.3 ESPN and managing editor at SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @bapter23