76ers start hot, but lose Game 1 in Miami, 97-89

By MIKE CUSTER
Staff Writer — mcuster@highhopesblog.com
_______

The Sixers gave it a fight, but for Game 1 at least, Miami proved they were the better team. (Courtesy Philly.com)

With Game 1 of their postseason finally underway, the 76ers stormed their way onto the scene early in front of a stunned South Beach crowd.  Miami, though, turned to their superstar trio to seize control of the game and stave off a late Philadelphia run to claim the series opener, 97-89.

Before taking the court for game one of their playoff venture, Doug Collins had a piece of advice for his young and inexperienced squad; “Don’t get discouraged by the initial onslaught.”  Rather than brace themselves to absorb the Heat’s first punch, the Sixers came out swinging, landing a haymaker in the form of 9 straight field goals en route to a 31-19 first quarter lead.  Thanks to 62% shooting from the field, Philly looked poised to keep Miami on its heels, but the rest of the game was all about the Heat.

Collins’ prediction for the playoffs was that, for the Sixers to stand a chance, they’d need to get 80% of the “50/50” balls – loose balls that trickle into no man’s land and usually require a floor burn to secure possession.  There were instances when the Sixers delivered; such as a sequence when Iggy saved a loose ball that led to a streaking dunk for Thad Young on the break, and when Thad, just a few plays later, pulled down 2 tough offensive rebounds before drawing a trip to the line on attempt #3.

However, Miami pulled themselves together to out work their counterparts on the way to the win.  The Heat dominated the battle of the boards, hounding the offensive glass en route to out rebounding the Sixers, 52-39.

They also cashed in with 15 points off 9 Philly turnovers, while the Sixers only converted 6 points off 14 Miami turnovers.  When pressed for points, James and the Heat rumbled their way into the lane and got to the line, leading to a staggering free throw disparity for the afternoon.  Miami hit 31 of their 39 attempted foul shots – James went 13-14 himself – compared to the Sixers’ 12-15 day from the stripe.

Even during their early run, Collins admitted he thought the Sixers were leaving fast break opportunities on the table.  They could have used them, too.  When Miami countered the Sixers’ 1st quarter explosion by dropping into a 2-3 zone, the team failed to create any penetration and went nearly 4 minutes without hitting a shot from the field.  From the bench, Collins preached to his team to maintain its poise, and to their credit they worked hard enough to keep themselves within striking distance until the end of the game.

The Sixers, though, were ultimately doomed when they failed to out hustle the Heat for the full 48.  It’s not as if they lacked effort, but they needed to go the extra mile to stick with Miami and their star power.  LeBron (21 and 14) and Bosh (25 and 12) kept the team front-running through most of the second half by controlling the paint, while Wade overcame foul trouble to drop 5 of his 17 in the final 2 minutes of the game, road blocking the Sixers’ final push.

On Saturday, Thaddeus Young, for one, truly embodied the extra aggression it takes to make an impact in the playoffs.  He pulled down 8 – count them, 8 – of the team’s 12 offensive rebounds.  He fueled the team to its 4th quarter comeback, working hard in the paint to ensure the Sixers didn’t leave an offensive possession empty handed.  Supported by a pair of Jrue Holiday 3’s, Young and the Sixers scored 12 straight in the 4th to cut the lead to one at 88-87.

The real difference during the stretch was that, not only were the Sixers able to make stops on defense, but they also converted with buckets on the other end.

Too many times over the course of the game, the Sixers would follow up a solid defensive stand with poor shot selection or a costly turnover on their ensuing possession.  In the 4th, they forced Miami’s offense to cough up 6 turnovers and to settle for contested jump shots, and then completed successful offensive conversions.

Collins, hopefully, will point to this stretch for his team to learn from the most between now and Monday.

This isn’t a loss that should send the Sixers reeling.  They stepped up fearlessly to open the game, and wouldn’t let themselves fall out of contention until the final horn sounded.  The team looked thrown off by the zone, and it took them out of their offense for too big a portion of the game.  Brand, who had 11 first quarter points, saw less of the ball as the game went on and finished with only 17.  Lou Williams looked a step out of sync on his way to a 3-10 day from the field.  Igoudala had as many points, 4, as he did turnovers.

There were a few perplexing rotation choices by Collins in this one as well.  Andres Nocioni and Marreese Speights saw 22 minutes, but failed to deliver anything of worth to the team.  Nocioni, who won his minutes with improved play down the stretch, went 0-3 from the field.  Speights, who hardly saw any significant minutes after the all-star break, registered all 12 of his minutes in the second half.  He went an unfortunate 2-7, including a few missed layups, to score 4.

The mistakes made Saturday are correctable in time for Monday’s game two.  But, what the team really needs to do is fall in line behind Thad’s performance and make sure they leave everything on the court every game between now and the end of their season.

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