Heat vs. 76ers score: Miami overpowers Joel Embiid-less Philadelphia in second half, takes 1-0 lead

The Miami Heat strike first against the Philadelphia 76ers with a 106-92 Game 1 win. Despite the absence of Joel Embiid, the Sixers battled for much of the game and even held the lead briefly, but Miami answered and pulled away in the second half for the 1-0 series lead in the Eastern Conference semifinal.

Tyler Herro finished with a team-high 25 points for Miami, while Bam Adebayo added 24 points, 12 rebounds and four assists in the winning effort. Tobias Harris led the Sixers with 27 points and James Harden added 16 points, nine rebounds and five assists. Miami wore down Philly in the second half.

Embiid, who suffered an orbital fracture and mild concussion in Game 6 against Toronto, is out indefinitely though there's optimism he can return for Game 3 when the series shifts back to Philadelphia. The Sixers are now 6-9 without their big man this season. The Heat's Kyle Lowry also sat out with a hamstring strain after missing Games 4 and 5 in the first round with the same injury. 

Here are three takeaways from Miami's Game 1 win.

1. 'We're gonna keep starting him whether you like it or not'

One thing we've learned about Doc Rivers after all of these years is that he does not like to be questioned. Less than a week ago, he spent a press conference attempting to debunk the criticism that has followed his many blown 3-1 leads. So, naturally, when the basketball world criticized him for overusing DeAndre Jordan (or, really, using him at all), Rivers was defiant. "We like DJ," Rivers Rivers said after Monday's loss. "We're gonna keep starting him whether you like it or not."

So, in essence, Rivers not only blew Game 1 by starting Jordan, but he's actively laying the groundwork to blow Game 2 as well. And yes, using Jordan was that significant a negative. Let's take a look at his usage in Game 1:

  • Jordan starts Game 1. Philly falls behind 15-6 (and, were it not for the officials taking another Miami 3 off the board, it would have been 18-6). Philly inserts Paul Reed. 
  • When Reed is removed, Philly has cut the lead to five. Jordan enters the game for 45.6 seconds. Miami pushes the lead back up to eight.
  • Jordan doesn't play the second quarter. The Sixers win it by nine, taking a 51-50 lead into the second half. To be clear, at this point, the 76ers are plus-13 with Jordan out and minus-12 with him in.
  • For reasons that remain unclear, Rivers starts the second half with Jordan on the floor. The lead evaporates. When he is removed, Philly trails by one.
  • The Heat manage to get three offensive rebounds on a single possession, leading to free throws for Bam Adebayo. On that very set of free throws, Rivers panics and puts Jordan back into the game. The Sixers are down six when he is reinserted. They are down nine when he exits a few minutes later.
  • Philly is down 11 when Jordan enters the game with 9:42 left in the fourth quarter. They are down 19 when he exits less than three minutes later.

This. Is. Not. Rocket. Science. Every time Jordan enters the game, bad things happen for his team. Philly won the minutes he sat by eight points … but it lost the game as a whole by 14. Losing 17 minutes by 22 points is genuinely impressive. 

Yet Rivers not only refused to bench him, but is actively arguing that he deserves to be a starter. Rivers argued that the players preferred to start with Jordan. "We talked to our guys, they wanted a big guy, a big roller," Rivers said. Well, Doc, you know what part of your job is as a head coach? Managing your players. If they want you to do the wrong thing, then it's your job to show them why they're wrong. If Rivers is going to continue shooting his team in the foot, any slim chance they had of winning without Joel Embiid is going to disappear. 

2. The $90 million DNP

Rivers wasn't the only coach to make an unexpected rotation decision. Erik Spoelstra made one as well, though his was far more justifiable. Duncan Robinson has slowly been falling out of favor in Miami throughout the end of the season. He was removed from the starting lineup toward the end of the year, and his playing time was fairly limited in the first round, but even with Kyle Lowry injured, it was a surprise to see him benched entirely for this game. 

Robinson is not DeAndre Jordan. He is far from an unplayable NBA player. He's in the first year of a $90 million pact signed nine months ago. He scored 27 points in a playoff game two weeks ago.

The difference is that the Heat are operating from a position of strength. They gave Victor Oladipo some run in the first round and liked what they saw enough to give him 25 minutes. Throw in 21 for Caleb Martin and 29 from Tyler Herro, and the Heat just didn't have any perimeter minutes leftover for reserves. Throw in 62 minutes combined for Max Strus and Gabe Vincent in the starting five, and there's just no time left over for Robinson. That's not likely to change when Kyle Lowry returns.

But that doesn't mean Robinson is done for the playoffs. If anything, this decision shows that Spoelstra, unlike Rivers, actually learns from his mistakes. The last time the Heat played the 76ers, they lost in a fourth-quarter flurry that was only possible because Philly's guards attacked Herro relentlessly in one-on-one defense. Herro is too important offensively to be removed from the starting lineup, but in this specific matchup, with James Harden and Tyrese Maxey on the other side, Spoelstra seems to have decided to limit the number of minutes he's willing to use on defensive liabilities. That decision paid off as the Heat held the 76ers to just 92 points. When the matchups favor Robinson, he'll be back. For now? The Heat are emphasizing different things. They're deep enough to do so.

3. Hard for Harden

James Harden's 22-point, 15-assist outing in Game 6 of Philly's first-round series win over the Raptors was so encouraging. It looked as though the embattled superstar was finally rounding into shape as the most difficult portion of the playoffs was beginning. But alas. In Game 1 of the Heat, Harden struggled to just 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting with five assists in the loss. He was his team's third-leading scorer with Joel Embiid out.

That's not who Philadelphia traded Ben Simmons, Seth Curry, Andre Drummond and two first-round picks to get, but it's what Harden's playoff history and declining numbers suggested was possible. Harden has struggled ever since he joined the 76ers, and when you factor in the typical decline in whistles that comes in the playoffs as well as the emphasis on mid-range scoring out of stars, struggles like this against a switching defense like Miami's felt almost inevitable.

Now the Sixers are three games away from elimination. Harden, after not picking up his player option upon being dealt to Philly in the first place, can become a free agent this offseason. Right now, he's not making a compelling case for the 76ers to sign him to a long-term deal. If he's going to get his money and have any chance at earning a championship ring, it's going to have to come now. The 76ers didn't trade for Harden to be their third-leading scorer with Embiid out. They expected a legitimate partner for their MVP candidate. They aren't getting one at the moment, and it's feeling less and less likely that one is ever going to come.

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MIA -7.5, o209.5
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MIA -7.5, O/U 209.5

Season Leaders

points
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J. Embiid23.6 PTS, 2.1 AST, 10.7 REB
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J. Embiid23.6 PTS, 2.1 AST, 10.7 REB
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J. Butler27.4 PTS, 4.6 AST, 7.4 REB
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J. Butler27.4 PTS, 4.6 AST, 7.4 REB
assists
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J. Harden18.6 PTS, 8.6 AST, 5.7 REB
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J. Harden18.6 PTS, 8.6 AST, 5.7 REB
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K. Lowry7.8 PTS, 4.7 AST, 3.6 REB
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K. Lowry7.8 PTS, 4.7 AST, 3.6 REB
rebounds
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J. Embiid23.6 PTS, 2.1 AST, 10.7 REB
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J. Embiid23.6 PTS, 2.1 AST, 10.7 REB
headshot-image
B. Adebayo14.8 PTS, 2.7 AST, 8.0 REB
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B. Adebayo14.8 PTS, 2.7 AST, 8.0 REB
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That'll do it for us here in Miami. Heat win Game 1, 106-92. Heat lead the series, 1-0.

May 3, 2022, 1:51 AM
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May 3, 2022, 1:48 AM
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What a bummer this game turned out to be. Philly's good players actually, largely, played well! They were in this game for most of the first three quarters. But Doc Rivers insisted on playing DeAndre Jordan meaningful minutes. That was the difference.

May 3, 2022, 1:47 AM
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The Sixers are 2-of-15 from the field in this quarter.

May 3, 2022, 1:43 AM
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Notice how the Sixers are missing short on their 3's. They have no legs.

May 3, 2022, 1:40 AM
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This is an absolute laugher. Philly is gassed. The Heat look like they could play another four quarters.

May 3, 2022, 1:39 AM
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Herro makes another 3. The Heat lead by 19.

May 3, 2022, 1:35 AM
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Notice how DeAndre is just standing right under the basket? Yea, that doesn't make it easier for Tyrese Maxey to drive!

May 3, 2022, 1:34 AM
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