Final thoughts on the Sixers’ 4-1 series victory over Miami (2024)

For much of the five-game series — Game 5 was admittedly a little bleh — Sixers-Heat was some pretty darn good basketball: off-the-charts intensity and effort level, consistently physical and sometimes chippy play, fun extra-curricular activity, big personalities on both sides, ball and player movement, high-level skill and shot-making, a man and his mask, and fantastic officiating.


OK, maybe not that last one. Even though Miami didn’t represent an elite opponent from a talent standpoint, there’s an old boxing adage that “styles make fights.” And a well-coached team that was looking to scrap and claw and muck up the game as much as possible provided a perfect opening opponent for a talented young nucleus dipping their toes into postseason waters for the first time.

And the Sixers were ultimately up to the task. They didn’t let Miami take them out of their game, which proved again to be a superior game. Let’s steal a page from our Flyers writer’s book and lay out four things (I don’t know how he thinks up ten) that we learned from the Sixers’ 4-1 series win over the Heat.

The Sixers ultimately didn’t let Miami’s physical tactics faze them

J.J. Redick asked the question before Game 5: “Why are boxing analogies so perfect for every other sport?”

It’s a good point. There’s no punching in, say, tennis, but a grueling five-set French Open match can resemble boxing on clay. This Sixers-Heat series had an additional boxing tie-in in Miami’s consistently physical playing style. The Heat didn’t literally “punch the Sixers in the mouth,” but it was close enough. Redick could’ve used a boxing cutman after sporting a scratch on his left cheek that wasn’t there a week ago.

Miami’s physicality became a talking point after they took Game 2 in Philly, and now everyone is tired of that word. Back when the Sixers got down to South Florida, though, I asked Ben Simmons if he was going to respond. His answer: “I got a few hits for people coming their way.”

Simmons was true to his word. His bone-crunching screen on Dwyane Wade, the hardest hit in Philly sports since Malcolm Jenkins decapitated Brandin Cooks, has gotten most of the attention, but the Sixers mostly adjusted to the level of physicality in subtler ways. Simmons and his teammates didn’t turn into the Bad Boy Pistons all of the sudden, but they mixed in a little bump, illegal screen, etc. here and there. None of these plays were whistled for fouls.

The return of Joel Embiid obviously helped greatly in this department, and there’s nothing subtle about what he does. Embiid lights up when talking about physical play, and if I were bigger and stronger than everyone else, I probably would too. From the legal-ish screens he set to spring Redick and Marco Belinelli off the ball to the all-out wars he had fighting with Bam Adebayo for post position, it’s hard to get pushed around physically when Embiid is playing basketball for your team.


Sometimes, the best response is none at all. Simmons was the most impressive in this regard, as he took some serious shots in Game 5. Low-bridged while extending midair for a layup (which admittedly looked unintentional)? Pop right back up and run it off. Smacked in the back of the head a la Rafer Alston (or Rick James)? Calmly walk away. Redick has recently likened Simmons’ stone-faced intensity to someone who sits behind a glass wall and looks at everyone on the other side, and that demeanor seems to come in handy when James Johnson is screaming in your face.

As Brett Brown said last week, there needed to be an “intellectual response” to Miami’s tactics. He mentioned multiple times how his Spurs team benefitted from Amare Stoudemire and Boris Diaw stepping onto the floor after Robert Horry hip checked Steve Nash into the scorer’s table. The Sixers were able to still play their game and execute better despite upping the physicality, something that bodes well for the future. Because this won’t be the last time that teams try to get overly physical with this group — not even close.

The fourth-quarter execution was a key factor

Before the series began, Brown emphasized that his team had to impose its playing style on Miami. “We need to maintain a pace, we need to play fast,” he said. The Sixers mostly did that over the course of the series, which averaged 102.99 possessions per game according to That number would’ve been the fastest pace in the league during the regular season. TNT cameras captured Erik Spoelstra exhorting his team to play the game “on our terms” and slow things down, but on balance this series was played on Sixer time.

That said, things screeched to a halt in the fourth quarter like you would expect in the playoffs. And the Sixers, a team without a traditional isolation scorer or pick-and-roll creator, did something they struggled with during the regular season: They executed the hell out of their offense down the stretch of games.

4th quarter offensive rating, regular season: 102.2 (29th out of 30)
4th quarter offensive rating, postseason: 124.7 (2nd out of 16)


As Redick pointed out after Game 5, the Sixers had made progress in this regard as the season moved along. After the All-Star break, after most of the blown double-digit leads, the Sixers offense was even above average in the fourth quarter. That gradual improvement made sense considering the Sixers’ youth and unfamiliarity playing together.

For as good as Simmons and Embiid already are, the Sixers can’t simply give the ball to LeBron James or James Harden and run spread pick-and-roll. They can’t throw the ball to Kevin Durant on the wing and tell him to get them a bucket. So most of the time, they execute some sort of action that involves putting Simmons, Redick and Embiid in motion. Sometimes, others are plugged in whether that is Marco Belinelli in Redick’s spot or Dario Saric playing as either the wing or big man, but at the end of the game, the Sixers are generally looking to get those three players involved on offense.

“I always say that the three of us talk about those closing plays more than anything else on non-gamedays,” Redick said. “We’re always trying to figure out little wrinkles and things we can add on those.”

You saw that combination on the two most important possessions of the series in Game 4. Redick’s screening is already a weapon because if the defense isn’t switching, his defender has to stay completely attached to him. But Brown also has compared Redick to John Stockton as a smaller guard who was willing to be “borderline dirty and extremely physical” in setting screens.

For the most part, the Sixers didn’t get into super crunch time, instead executing with their full roster and playbook to keep Miami at arm’s length. Still, this team’s improvement in closing games is legitimately encouraging.

The Sixers killed Miami on the offensive glass

One of those instances when the Sixers went away from their traditional late-game offense was Game 5. With Embiid in foul trouble in the fourth quarter, Belinelli and Redick executed some “Floppy” action (the plays where it sometimes looks like they’re running around in circles under the basket) on a few consecutive possessions to ice the game and also put the series away.

We will hopefully have some more coverage on those two guys in the coming days, but the effect that their off-ball movement and just the threat of their shooting had on the series can’t be understated. Floppy killed Miami, and so did the Sixers’ Flex sets. And on a couple of instances, the Sixers were able to corral offensive rebounds because the screener’s defender was flying out at Belinelli or Redick.

For the series, the Sixers ended with a 29.6 offensive rebounding rate, which is first among all 16 teams that participated in the playoffs. Some of these boards were due to Simmons out-jumping someone or Embiid outmuscling the other center. Others happened because of the matchup problems Ben Simmons provides, when the Heat decided to stick a smaller player like Josh Richardson on Saric or Ersan Ilyasova. Richardson is a fine defensive player with Covington-level quick hands, but those two forwards can lean on him. And finally, Ilyasova and Amir Johnson just seemed to have a nose for the ball.


Having stars is an advantage (duh)

Simmons’ jumper still remains a total mystery, especially because he never takes it in games. But when he makes that fadeaway one-footer in the lane against Miami, those types of plays have to be so demoralizing to another team. You guard everything well, and then here comes Simmons to announce that he’s better than you. Rude. Same thing goes for Embiid’s huge fourth quarter in Game 3.

As much as we talk about the coaches’ adjustments, winning in the playoffs is also about having top-end talent. The Sixers certainly aren’t lacking in that department.

Top photo: Matteo Marchi/Getty Images

Final thoughts on the Sixers’ 4-1 series victory over Miami (2024)


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