The Miami Heat never truly got their game going, and even the return of starting point guard Kyle Lowry wasn’t nearly enough to counter the return of Joel Embiid in a disappointing 99-79 Game 3 loss to the Philadelphia 76ers on Friday night.
Philadelphia was the better team tonight in a must-win game for them, playing more cohesively but clearly boosted by not just the return of the MVP candidate and leading scorer in the NBA regular season but also their bench for the first time this series. While the game wasn’t a blowout the way the final score would indicate, the home team was in control throughout the night and they made winning plays any team Miami appeared to gain any momentum.
With the exception of Jimmy Butler, who scored 33 points, no other Heat player made much of an offensive impact. The only other player to finish with double-digits in scoring was Tyler Herro, but he had a poor showing with just 14 points on 5-15 shooting. Lowry may have returned and had some decent moments as a playmaker here and there but otherwise he was held scoreless in a rusty outing in which he was hesitant to shoot and had more fouls (4) than assists (3) in 24 minutes.
Gabe Vincent was also scoreless off the bench, after enjoying solid performances as a starter. Bam Adebayo was a non-factor with nine points after averaging 23.5 points through the first two games against the Sixers and just three rebounds in 34 minutes while having his hands full trying to guard Embiid. Max Strus wasn’t much better, making a team-high three 3-pointers but needing to take 11 shots to get them. Perhaps this was a game in which Duncan Robinson could have been dusted off to see what he had to offer, or maybe a bigger role for Victor Oladipo when Miami’s playmaking went stagnant. (And for the love of all things Heat, let’s hope we don’t see another Dewayne Dedmon 3-point attempt again this postseason.)
In their best stretch of the game that more resembled their play from the first two games of the series, Miami would go on a 20-6 run to tie it at 57-57 with three minutes left in the third quarter. They couldn’t take the lead or keep the momentum going, with the Sixers immediately countering with an 8-2 run led by Tyrese Maxey and Embiid.
The fourth quarter started flat for the Heat, missing several baskets while also allowing Philadelphia to get into the bonus just a little more than three minutes into the period. With minimal offensive flow, Butler was the sole Heat player to keep them in the game and within striking distance but the 76ers made sure to stay ahead by winning the hustle plays, the resurgent shooting from players such as Danny Green, some iffy calls going their way, and the decisive second half offensive explosion from Maxey — who had gone scoreless before halftime.
Yes, Miami’s defense wasn’t stellar, but their lack of offensive execution and flat-out poor shooting in a tough environment was the difference maker. As a team they shot 35.5% from the field (27-77) and just 24.1% from deep (7-30). That’s not going to cut it against any NBA team, let alone a suddenly dangerous-looking team in the playoffs with their best player back.
The defeat cuts Miami’s lead in the Eastern Conference Semifinals series to 2-1 heading into Sunday’s Game 4. This could turn out the way it did against Atlanta in which the Heat respond to a frustrating loss with a gritty road win to give themselves the opportunity to close out the series back home, or they will return to the FTX Arena early next week with the series all tied up.