Before the Miami Heat and Philadelphia 76ers tipped off for their 7:30 p.m. game Monday night, the Sixers announced that Joel Embiid and James Harden would rest on the second night of a back-to-back. That would give Miami a golden opportunity to strengthen their hold on the one seed of the Eastern Conference.
Tyrese Maxey, the player who Philadelphia picked right after Miami selected Precious Achiuwa in the 2020 NBA Draft, had other plans.
In a game that was close throughout — we’ll get to that later — Maxey made an and-one with 2:18 left to play to give Philadelphia a 106-101 lead. On the other end of the floor, Jimmy Butler attempted a 3-pointer. It (obviously) missed. The third-year guard made a 3 for the Sixers to put them up 109-101 with 1:34 left. The crowd erupted.
And for good measure, Maxey hit one more 3 and made an athletic block on a Caleb Martin layup before the final buzzer sounded. Philadelphia won 113-106, tying the season series at 2-2 and moving within two-and-a-half games over the Heat for the top seed.
We can chalk this game up to the Heat playing down to the level of their competition. We can say that the Brooklyn Nets’ position as the eighth seed and the play-in tournament lessen incentive to secure the one seed. But one can’t ignore the challenges of late-game execution that have bedeviled Miami all season long.
For the first part of the fourth quarter, the Heat and Sixers exchanged baskets. Kyle Lowry and Caleb Martin made 3s, and Tyler Herro found Bam Adebayo for back-to-back alley-oops.
Different possessions, same outcome pic.twitter.com/kfAFopqyID— Miami HEAT (@MiamiHEAT) March 22, 2022
But the Sixers couldn’t miss, hunting Herro on the defensive end again and again. Herro had an off night himself, going 5-of-15 from the field. And in the last three minutes, the Heat went cold for a stretch at the wrong time.
Butler led Miami with 27 points on 8-of-15 shooting from the field and 11-of-11 shooting from the foul line. He also collected five rebounds and six assists. It was good to see Butler back on the court — he’s missed four of the Heat’s last eight games — but that late 3-point attempt was ill-advised to put it mildly. Miami also played better offense before he checked in with a little under five minutes left in the fourth quarter.
Adebayo added 22 points on 9-of-14 shooting from the field with nine rebounds. He turned it up in the second half, but had just six points in the first. Playing against Paul Millsap and DeAndre Jordan, Adebayo has the quickness advantage against both of them. The Heat shouldn’t have been down to the Sixers after the second and third quarters. This game shouldn’t have come down to the last few minutes.
Monday marked the first game Butler, Adebayo and Lowry have played against the Sixers. And Lowry continued his willingness to shoot the ball, making six 3s and scoring 20 points. (Outside of him, Miami struggled from 3. Max Strus went 0-for-5.)
The Heat will host the Golden State Warriors Wednesday at 7 p.m.