Mateo’s Hoop Diary: Heat Snap Losing Streak in Philadelphia
If only Paul Revere could’ve warned Philadelphia that Jimmy Butler was coming. Word didn’t get out, and on Monday, the Miami Heat landed a devastating blow to Joel Embiid’s MVP chances.
On Saturday, Butler said he was tired of losing while facing reporters after Miami was overpowered in Charlotte. It was the club’s fourth consecutive defeat, triggering movement across sportsbook lines. That night, DraftKings lowered the odds of the Atlanta Hawks winning the southeast division from +360 to +240.
As has been the case all season, whenever the Heatles start getting serious, the squad takes multiple steps backward. Entering the match against Philadelphia, Miami was back at only three games over .500 (32-29). Over its poor four-game stretch, the Heat converted 29% of its attempts from 3-point range while failing to contain its perimeter.
To the horror of the Philadelphians, Miami was uncharacteristically shooting well from deep in the first half. Gabe Vincent splashed Miami’s first long-distance make off a dribble handoff by Butler on the left wing. JB hit the next one from the opposite wing as Embiid over-helped on Bam Adebayo in the low post, creating the opening. The following trifectas came from Butler’s offensive rebound, then finding Vincent at the top of the key, and again, Butler, attracting a second defender at the nail against the 2-3 zone, uncovering Kevin Love on the left side.
Through 24 minutes, Miami had forced 10 turnovers, three of them steals belonging to #22 as he terrorized Embiid. While Philly’s main man matched up with Cody Zeller at the free throw line, Butler was the spy in the low post, intercepting the pass to De’Anthony Melton. When Embiid fell in the post with the ball, JB slapped it from his grasp. Trying to pass out of a wall at the elbow, Embiid didn’t see Butler on the right side and threw a pick, resulting in a fastbreak slam.
At halftime, the Heat held a 58-50 lead with 14 assists to four turnovers. The reserve crew contributed 19 points in the period. Victor Oladipo was finishing at the rim and hitting outside jumpers. Zeller scored twice in Embiid’s face, and Max Strus and Caleb Martin each splashed a triple and kept the ball moving.
In the second half, the Heat struggled to score, logging 39.4% of attempts. Yet, the 76ers had no counters for Butler and Strus. Each had 10 points on a combined six out of 10 shots. JB dissected the drop coverage for two scores and made one corkscrew layup between PJ Tucker and Embiid. Strus hit a right-wing 3-pointer, courtesy of the dribble penetration provided by Tyler Herro, and canned another triple in the same spot over four arms. He also seized the baseline on a backdoor cut.
On the other end, Miami shut down James Harden, holding him to two of eight made baskets in the second half. He couldn’t dribble past Adebayo on two plays, getting forced to a well-contested elbow jumper and way off miss on the baseline. He also smoked a layup at the rim against #13 too.
The Heat did not have the same success guarding Tyrese Maxey. He torched Miami for 14 of his 23 points in the third quarter. He only had four at halftime but rattled off his next six out of eight. Maxey was first down the court in transition and getting into the lane with two feet in the half-court. In the fourth quarter, Miami slowed him down by closing out quickly to the perimeter when he received the pass, allowing one out of four buckets.
In the fourth, Miami was outscored by a point, but it held Philadelphia to 20.8% shooting in the frame. The Heat recorded four field goals down the stretch, and Butler finished the game with 23 points on 64% efficiency with 11 rebounds and nine dimes.
At the postgame presser, coach Erik Spoelstra said, “Things don’t always go your way in this league, but it’s about how you respond to those moments collectively when you have some disappointments…”
In the locker room, Butler wasn’t too concerned with how the win materialized or excited about beating down on former teammates, but he said, “We got to start stringing these [wins] together. We got them again in 48 hours, and we want to do the same thing.”
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