After the Philadelphia 76ers buried them beneath a barrage of second-half 3-pointers in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series, the Miami Heat entered Monday’s Game 2 knowing they needed something special to earn a split at Wells Fargo Center so they could head back to South Beach with home-court advantage and a puncher’s chance to upset the favored young Sixers. They got it, in the form of a bit of turn-back-the-clock brilliance from Dwyane Wade.
Wade stunned the NBA world when he left Miami in free agency two summers ago, before making his way back to Florida in February following pit stops in Chicago and Cleveland. He’s had to undergo a bit of recalibration in his second tour of duty for the Heat; he remains a franchise icon, a three-time NBA champion and former NBA Finals MVP, but on this iteration of Erik Spoelstra’s club, he’s a backup ball-handler and creator, a rotation cog who barely play 20 minutes a night.
On Monday in Philadelphia, though, he was once again every ounce The Man, pouring in a game-high 28 points in 26 minutes to leave the Sixers reeling and lead the Heat to a 113-103 win. (Decent way to cap the night you pass Larry Bird on the all-time playoff scoring list.)
With the win, the Heat knotted the best-of-seven set at one game apiece, with the setting about to shift to AmericanAirlines Arena in Florida for Game 3 on Thursday. After handing the Sixers their first loss since March 13, Miami now holds home-court advantage thanks in large part to the 36-year-old Wade, who was unconscious from midrange in the pivotal second quarter, and who came up with a series of huge plays to close the door late.
Most notably: Wade drilled a dagger side-step jumper right in the face of rising Sixers star Ben Simmons to give Miami an eight-point lead with 45.9 seconds remaining …
D-Wade Dagger in Ben Simmons face. pic.twitter.com/LQlJTF7BvE
— gifdsports (@gifdsports) April 17, 2018
… and close out the highest-scoring postseason performance by a reserve in Heat franchise history. Not bad for a guy Miami picked up with two months left in the season for the cost of a heavily protected second-round draft pick that, if it ever makes its way into the hands of the Cavs, won’t do so until 2024.
Wade led six Heat players in double figures in the win. Goran Dragic bounced back from a quiet Game 1 and fought through early foul trouble to finish with 20 points, four rebounds and three assists in 25 1/2 minutes of floor time … and the Sixers didn’t much care for the last two he piled up in the closing seconds of a decided game:
Brett Brown and the rest of Philadelphia didn't like that late Dragic layup… pic.twitter.com/2sLWt6OF2K
— Dime on UPROXX (@DimeUPROXX) April 17, 2018
James Johnson struggled at times to corral the 6-foot-10 Simmons — especially in the second half, when the Rookie of the Year contender scored 15 of 24 points and dished five of his eight assists. But he did yeoman’s work all over the court on Monday, scoring 18 points on perfect 7-for-7 shooting to go with seven rebounds, five assists, three steals and a block in the win.
Wings Josh Richardson (14 points, five rebounds, three assists, three blocks) and Justise Winslow (two points, three rebounds, some dogged and physical defense on Simmons) also made their presence felt for Spoelstra’s club, which got blown off the court in the second half of Game 1 and knew they needed to ratchet up the level of physicality and defensive intensity to change the state of play in Game 2. Mission accomplished.
The Heat absolutely suffocated Philadelphia in the second quarter, limiting the hosts to 13 points on 4-for-21 shooting in the frame to take over the game, and continually harassing Sixers shooters and ball-handlers at the 3-point arc. In Game 1, Philly went 18-for-28 from 3-point land; in Game 2, they went 7-for-36.
Even so, despite trailing by as many as 16 points early in the fourth quarter, the Sixers had a chance to win it late. As Miami’s offense stagnated, Philly’s began to come to life, with Simmons pounding his way to the basket and Dario Saric finally getting the lid off the basket from long range; the 76ers drew within two points on a tip-in put-back by center Ersan Ilyasova with 4:29 to go.
With the game in the balance in the closing minutes, though, the Heat turned to one of the great closers in recent NBA history, and Wade put his fingerprints — and the finishing touches — on the game. First, he snuck in from the corner to swipe the ball from an unsuspecting Saric, triggering a fast break that led with a two-handed stuff that put the Heat back up by four:
Then, after a missed 3-point try by Sixers guard J.J. Redick, Wade ran the high screen-and-roll with Johnson, taking advantage of last-line-of-defense Ilyasova being occupied by the shooting threat of stretch big man Kelly Olynyk — an occupation that left the paint unprotected — by hitting the rolling point forward with an on-time dime for a dunk that pushed the lead to six:
Finally, after grabbing an offensive rebound of a missed layup by Dragic to extend a possession that ended with a Dragic jumper, Wade sized up Simmons, took one step to create space, and finished the job …
Sixers closed it to two with 4:29 left and got the ball back. Then…
James Johnson Assist
— Couper Moorhead (@CoupNBA) April 17, 2018
… much to the delight of his significant other:
Now come on home baby, I got somethin' for ya #GrownASF
— Gabrielle Union (@itsgabrielleu) April 17, 2018
Saric finished with 23 points on 8-for-21 shooting, nine rebounds, four steals, three assists and a block. Ilyasova, who got the starting nod for Amir Johnson after his strong work in Game 1 but wound up back on the bench to start the second half on Monday, came back strong late to finish with 14 points and 11 rebounds. Marco Belinelli (16 points in 30 minutes off the bench) did his level (really, often off-balance) best to give the Sixers an offensive jolt, but Miami’s defensive activity flustered Philly’s shooters all night, as Belinelli, Redick and Robert Covington combined to miss 20 of their 24 3-point tries.
The Sixers did get their offense cranked up after halftime, scoring 61 points on 50 percent shooting, but they just couldn’t climb out of the hole the Heat dug for them in that devastating second quarter. After Game 1, it was up to Spoelstra to figure out how to adjust to disrupt the flow Philly enjoyed after moving Ilyasova to the five to open the floor around Simmons, leading to a barrage from downtown. Now, it’s on Brett Brown to see what cards he can play to change the terms of engagement.
There’s a pretty big one that Philly hasn’t had access to for a few weeks. You might have heard of him: stands about 7-foot-2, one of the best two-way players in the NBA, pretty active social media presence. Whether Joel Embiid’s able to slot back into the middle of the Sixers’ lineup come Thursday night — and the man sure seems to be spoiling for a return — remains to be seen, as does whether the Sixers will stay so frosty from beyond the arc. While the Sixers look to regroup and answer some questions, though, the Heat head home with the split they sought, thanks to some classic heroics from one of the best to ever do it.
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