3 observations after Sixers’ season-low offensive output, loss without Harden originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia
Without James Harden and on the road against the team with the Eastern Conference’s best record, the Sixers couldn’t pull off a third consecutive comeback win.
They fell Saturday night to the Heat, dropping to 39-24 this season with a 99-82 loss at FTX Arena. Miami extended its lead over the Sixers in the standings to three games.
Harden, who’d been sidelined with left hamstring tightness before his Sixers debut last Friday, sat on the second night of a back-to-back. Kyle Lowry (personal reasons), Markieff Morris (return to competition reconditioning) and Victor Oladipo (right knee injury recovery) were out for Miami.
Joel Embiid had 22 points on 4-for-15 shooting and 15 rebounds. Tyrese Maxey scored 17 points.
Jimmy Butler and Tyler Herro each posted 21 points.
The Sixers will return home to play the Bulls on Monday night. Here are observations on their loss to Miami:
Korkmaz starts and Sixers start poorly
In each of Harden’s first four games with the team, the Sixers exceeded 120 points.
They managed just 14 points in Saturday night’s first quarter, shooting 5 for 23 from the floor and 2 for 11 from three-point range. Those numbers were boosted by a Danny Green corner three with 16.4 seconds left in the period.
Despite not having scored since Harden’s debut and not playing in the second half of the Sixers’ home wins over the Knicks and Cavs, Furkan Korkmaz started. Sixers head coach Doc Rivers has been consistent since the Harden trade in describing wing rotation spots as up for grabs. Korkmaz certainly hasn’t seized one.
He missed all three of his long-distance tries in his opening stint. Korkmaz slammed in a second quarter put-back dunk to cut a Miami lead as high as 20 points down to 10, but he then conceded back-to-back hoops to Gabe Vincent (16 points, 4 of 6 from three-point range) and Herro.
Instead of starting, Shake Milton played behind Tyrese Maxey. Isaiah Joe entered the rotation for the first time since the Harden trade. Korkmaz, Milton and Joe combined to go 0 for 7 from three-point territory.
Embiid’s difficult night
Embiid began the evening with a smooth fadeaway jumper, but the All-Star big man missed 8 of the 9 field goals he attempted the rest of the first half.
Miami deserves substantial credit for Embiid not beginning the game like himself. Embiid attracted a swarm of defenders and the Heat rotated effectively, forcing the Sixers to work hard for shots of any kind, let alone good ones. The Sixers’ heap of three-point misses, including four from Embiid in the first half, also didn’t help.
Embiid saw essentially no single coverage, but Bam Adebayo and P.J. Tucker were sharp and smart as both point-of-attack and help defenders. Neither provided much on the other end of the floor, though. Adebayo scored just six points, tied for his season low.
Embiid troubled Miami some in the second half by seeking contact and went 14 for 14 from the foul line in the game. However, Tobias Harris (16 points, eight rebounds) was the only other Sixer to make a foul shot until two garbage-time free throws by Joe.
Paul Millsap remained Embiid’s backup and posted four points and five rebounds in nine minutes. His air balled three-point attempt early in the fourth quarter encapsulated the Sixers’ night. The team’s 82 points and 17.1 percent mark from long distance were both lows under Rivers.
DeAndre Jordan was on the Sixers’ bench for the first time but did not play.
No Maxey magic or dramatic comeback
Maxey’s play was the main silver lining of the Sixers’ first half. He made a pull-up three-pointer on his first shot and continued to confidently fire jumpers.
The Sixers gave Miami’s shooters too many wide-open chances early in the game, though. When Vincent put the Heat up 37-18 on an easy triple, it seemed the Sixers could be in for an ugly rest of the game.
They managed to keep things competitive until the final minutes, in part because they played stretches of decent zone defense for a second straight outing. Man-to-man stops will be necessary in the playoffs, but perhaps the Sixers can work around defensive deficiencies and disrupt opponents’ rhythm on occasion through zone. It’s also a nice way to limit the energy Embiid expends on defense.
Though the Sixers trimmed the Heat’s edge as low as two points, Maxey didn’t have any fourth-quarter magic and Embiid came up empty on two three-point tries. Over the last two games, he’s gone 0 for 10 from three.
Danny Green and Georges Niang played in the fourth over Korkmaz and Matisse Thybulle, who’s been active two times this season against Miami and not yet scored. The enhanced shooting in the lineup didn’t matter on an evening when the Sixers’ jumpers were, by and large, woefully off.