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3 observations after Sixers right the ship in time to beat Heat

The Sixers squandered a 17-point lead but still managed to earn a second consecutive win Monday night.

They took a 98-91 victory over the Heat and now trail Miami 2-1 in the season series. The teams will face each other for the last time this regular season on April 4 in Miami.

Tyrese Maxey finished with 30 points, 10 assists and eight rebounds. Kelly Oubre Jr. scored 22 points, grabbed 11 rebounds and blocked five shots. Kyle Lowry recorded 16 points.

Heat big man Bam Adebayo had 20 points, 13 rebounds and six assists. Terry Rozier added 20 points and eight rebounds.

The Sixers were missing Joel Embiid (left knee meniscus procedure), Tobias Harris (right ankle sprain), De’Anthony Melton (lumbar spine bone stress) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise).

Jimmy Butler (right foot contusion) was among the five Heat players out with injuries.

The Sixers will begin a four-game West Coast road trip with a game Wednesday night against the Suns. Here are observations on their win over Miami:

No. 0 owns first quarter 

The first few minutes were expectedly even between two teams who entered with identical 37-30 records. Adebayo broke a 14-all tie by sinking a corner three.

Fresh off a buzzer-beating, game-winning three the night prior against the Pistons, Adebayo had a great start — nine points on 4-for-4 shooting, five rebounds and four assists in the first quarter. However, Maxey looked to be the best player on the court.

After drawing 12 free throws Saturday in the Sixers’ win over the Hornets, Maxey got three early attempts at the line vs. Miami. He also made three smooth mid-range jumpers in the first quarter, including two baseline pull-ups. That’s a shot Sixers head coach Nick Nurse has encouraged Maxey to use at times against good, physical defenses. He’s certainly capable of making shifty moves, rapidly decelerating, and scoring in a variety of ways.

“It’s funny, I’m going to bring this up and I know my dad’s probably going to watch this,” Maxey said. “When I was in high school, he’s just like, ‘All you want to do is shoot threes and layups. Threes and layups!’ … But now he’s like, ‘You need to learn to work on your pull-up. Work on your pull-up.’ And I’m like, ‘Man, when I got to the NBA, it’s like, we’re only going to shoot threes and layups.’

“But now it’s a little bit different because there’s only so close you can get, especially when the defense is focused on you. So instead of sometimes challenging bigs, if I can get to a certain spot … and just rise up and shoot a nice little touch shot, nice little middie, then that’s the best shot in that possession.

“I’ve been working on it a lot and I trust it now. It’s going to be big come playoff time. … Shout out to Sam Cassell. He always says, ‘Those are fourth quarter and playoff shots.’ I think I’m going to need some of those.”

Soon enough, Maxey showed off his long-range prowess. He reached 14 points under eight minutes in with a deep three-pointer late in the shot clock to bust the Heat’s zone. The All-Star guard nailed an open catch-and-shoot triple later in the first quarter to give the Sixers a 31-21 lead.

Major Maxey-less struggles 

The Sixers didn’t handle their first stint of the night without Maxey well at all.

After earning an 8-0 points-off-turnovers edge in the first quarter, the Sixers committed two giveaways early in the second. Jaime Jaquez Jr. converted a fast-break layup and the Heat went on a sustained run.

One of the Sixers’ attempts to stop their skid was an off-target Paul Reed elbow jumper. In general, the team settled too much for the first available shot and didn’t have much offensive cohesion or ball movement with Maxey out.

Thomas Bryant threw down an alley-oop dunk, Miami stretched its run to 10-0, and Nurse called upon KJ Martin to replace Reed.

Though Maxey only tallied one point in the second quarter, the Sixers stabilized. Nicolas Batum made a tremendous defensive play late in the second, hustling back to block a Rozier layup. Maxey then threw a long-distance pass up to Lowry, who made an and-one lay-in. Batum played strong defense Monday on Duncan Robinson, who scored only three points on 1-for-5 shooting before being ruled out at the beginning of the fourth quarter because of back discomfort.

The Sixers found Miami’s zone hard to consistently crack, but Oubre drilled a corner three with 0.2 seconds left in the second period and sent the team into halftime with a 51-49 lead. Oubre’s steady scoring has been valuable for the Sixers lately; he’s now recorded at least 18 points in eight of his past nine games.

Sixers right the ship just in time

The Sixers opened the third quarter with excellent defensive energy, anticipating the Heat’s actions and pouncing on opportunities to generate turnovers.

It also helped that Lowry and Mo Bamba sunk three-pointers. Bamba shot 2 for 3 from three-point range Monday and posted eight points, four rebounds, three assists, two blocks and two steals. He’s made a three in four consecutive games and had some decent stints recently as a starter.

Bamba recovered a loose ball and then dished to Oubre for a dunk that put the Sixers up 68-51.

Miami wasn’t out of it yet, though. Maxey missed a couple of jumpers and turned the ball over against the Heat’s pressure. He eventually got two long twos to drop and the Sixers held a 14-point advantage heading into the fourth quarter.

Again, the team’s lead diminished as Maxey watched from the sidelines. Buddy Hield air-balled a jumper long, Oubre lost the ball on a reckless drive into traffic, and a Bryant push shot prompted Nurse to call timeout with Miami’s deficit down to 81-74.

“It’s the NBA,” Lowry said. “There’s always going to be runs, right? And a team like Miami, they’re never going to quit. I said that at the beginning of the fourth: They’re not going to stop playing.”

It’s reasonable to assume the Sixers’ level will usually dip with no All-Stars on the floor, but they can’t afford to play rushed, panicky basketball during their Maxey-less minutes. The Sixers lacked composure Monday and allowed Miami back into a game that should’ve been rather secure.

Instead, the Heat had all the momentum when Maxey re-entered. The Sixers weren’t sharp in their efforts to break Miami’s full-court pressure and just about every Heat jumper started to fall. Following two Rozier triples, Bamba committed a turnover and Caleb Martin slammed in a fast-break dunk to tie the contest at 85-all.

Lowry played a pivotal role in the Sixers righting the ship. The 37-year-old drained a critical three vs. his former team and scored a tricky, crafty layup following a big Reed offensive board.

“He was in his OG bag tonight, man,” Oubre said of Lowry. “You definitely knew he had that energy against his former team and he wanted to win very badly. That just goes to show the impact he can bring. On any given night, he can use his IQ, manipulate and control a game. That’s what he did tonight.”

The Sixers didn’t close the game cleanly — Batum turned the ball over on a late inbounds pass — but they’ll take the win and be relieved that they overcame their troubles without Maxey for a first victory this season vs. Miami.

For the time being, they’re back up to sixth in the Eastern Conference standings.

“I think we play some really good basketball at times and I think we play some really shaky basketball at times,” Nurse said. “I just wish there were more times we looked a little more confident against some things.

“But there was some really great defense. I thought our ball pressure was amazing. … We’re doing a lot of good things. Just try to get some of that really poor play to average, and then the games are probably going to look a lot better.”