Ben Simmons became the fifth rookie in NBA history to record a playoff triple-double, and the 76ers defeated the Miami Heat Saturday afternoon on the road 106-102, taking a commanding 3-1 series lead.
In 39 minutes of play, Simmons wasn’t without flaw, turning the basketball over seven times as part of a team 26 turnovers, but he was more than productive otherwise to make up for his errors. Simmons finished with 17 points, 10 assists and 13 rebounds, becoming the first rookie to record a playoff triple-double since Magic Johnson did it in 1980.
In hostile territory, where the atmosphere was evidently palpable from the opening tip, the 76ers grabbed the game’s first four points. The Heat would then claim early momentum, scoring six straight of their own to take a 6-4 lead. Despite Miami trailing early, Josh Richardson found his stroke earl in the contest, picking up six of the Heat’s first 12 points. Richardson would be of little concern the rest of the game, however, as the swing man scored just four more points for a game ten.
Offensively, the 76ers weren’t overly efficient in the first quarter, connecting on 10-24 shots from the field, but they would rely on a quick scoring burst to claim a continued, early lead. Philadelphia went on a 10-3 run over three minutes, taking a seven point lead, 2-15. Throughout that spurt, Dario Saric was particularly effective, scoring five of his seven first quarter points. Much like Richardson, Saric faded rapidly as the game progressed, scoring just 11 points on 4-13 shooting.
Right after that scoring outburst, the aforementioned turnovers reared their ugly head for the 76ers, who coughed the ball up in three straight trips down the floor. For a team that has prided itself on limiting turnovers over the past few weeks, after a rough start to the season in which Philadelphia led the league in turnovers per game, it was a reversion back to the past. The 76ers 26 turnovers were more than double that which the team had been averaging over the first three games of the series.
During this poor offensive stretch, in which Philadelphia connected on just one field goal over a four minute span, the Heat collected seven consecutive points, drawing even at 26 as the quarter came to a close. The 76ers offensive struggles were obvious, as Philadelphia scored just six points over the final five minutes of the first quarter.
After one quarter of play, the game was tied, 26-26.
J.J. Redick was mostly invisible in the first quarter, scoring just two points, but came to life early in the second quarter, scoring five straight 76ers’ points to open the frame. Despite his lack of production in the first quarter, Redick finished with team-high 24 points on 8-18 shooting. Redick wasn’t as efficient from deep Saturday afternoon, going just 2-9 from three, but he found his touch from inside the arc as the game progressed.
Midway through the second quarter, a Miami Heat trio emerged as the preeminent offensive force in Game Four. For the second time this series, Dwyane Wade was an electric, re-energized form of his former self. Wade scored seven straight Miami points, and nine points in total in the second quarter, for his game-high 25 points. Wade supporting cast of Wayne Ellington and Goran Dragic were equally as impressive, as midway through the second quarter, the triumvirate had scored 29 of Miami’s 45 points. Dragic finished with 20 points on 9-19 shooting, and Ellington scored all ten of his points in the first half, as the Heat claimed a 47-42 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Heat grabbed this lead by using an 8-2 run that was part of a larger 14-6. During that stretch, the 76ers failed to connect on a field goal for over three minutes.
As had been the case throughout the first three games of the series, the referees had to get involved as the game’s extracurricular activities flared up once more. After a pileup of bodies on the 76ers’ defensive end, which saw Joel Embiid and a handful of Heat players get tangled up, falling to the floor, a near fight broke out on the opposite end of the court, as the often controlled Ben Simmons and James Johnson had to be separated by the officials and court security. After being involved in the entanglement at the other end of the floor, Joel Embiid sprinted down the court to protect his point guard. In the scrap, Justice Winslow and Josh Richardson had to leave the floor. Richardson did not return in the first half, and Winslow had to go to the locker room to get four stitches above his eye.
As the half wound down, the 76ers collected a quick pair of threes that sandwiched a Joel Embiid block of Goran Dragic, cutting the Heat lead to two, 54-52. The Heat would then grab seven straight of their own, extending the lead back to nine, 61-52. Philadelphia scored the final four points of the frame, trimming the Miami lead to five, 61-56, as the half came to a close.
Out of the halftime break, Miami pushed the tempo once more, jumping out to an 13-6 spurt to extend their lead back to double-digits, 74-62. While Hassan Whiteside has not been particularly potent in the series, he did collect six early third quarter points to help Miami extend this lead.
Sparks flew, once more, midway through the third quarter, in this ever-increasingly physical series, and the referees had to issue another pair of technical fouls. This time, Dario Saric and Hassan Whiteside were the recipients of these technicals.
With the third quarter drawing to a close, and Philadelphia still trailing by ten, Ersan Ilyasova came to life. Ilyasova collected six consecutive points to end the third frame, including a buzzer beating three with just 1.2 seconds left. Those six points over the final 1:16 of the quarter were 60 percent of Ilyasova’s points off the bench, as he finished with ten points in 23 minutes.
With 12 minutes remaining, the 76ers stilled trailed the Miami Heat by four, 83-79.
Augmenting their 6-0 run to end the third quarter, the 76ers added eight more consecutive points to open the final frame, taking a four point lead of their own, 87-83. Dating back to the end of the third quarter, the 76ers clamped down defensively, preventing the Heat from scoring for nearly four straight minutes. The Heat’s struggles continued to spread, as they scored just two points over a six minute stretch of the fourth quarter.
Just one minute later, on a J.J. Redick layup, Ben Simmons picked up his tenth assist of the game, recording his first career playoff triple-double. Simmons joined Magic Johnson, Kareem Abdul-Jabar, Jerry Lucas and Tom Gola as rookies to accomplish this feat.
This bucket was part of a nine minute, 23-7 run for the 76ers, who grabbed their largest lead of the second half, at six, 96-90, with just over four minutes to play. Shortly after, Dwyane Wade focused himself once more, collecting five straight Miami points as part of a 9-3 Heat run that cut the Philadelphia lead to one, 100-99. Those five points turned into eight straight for Wade, but he missed a crucial second free throw that would have trimmed the 76ers’ lead to just one. Instead, the 76ers led by two, 104-102 with less than 20 seconds to play. A pair of Ben Simmons free throws closed out the contest, as the 76ers defeated the Miami Heat 106-102.
The loss pushes the Heat to the brink of elimination, as Miami now trails 3-1 in the series. As the 76ers look to close out the series, they have history on their side. Teams that are up 3-1 in a seven games series in the NBA have won 95 percent of their series, 226-11. Game Five is set for Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center. Tip time has yet to be announced, but you’ll be able to hear all the action on 97.5 The Fanatic!
-By Tyler Zulli, producer and www.975thefanatic.com contributor.