Apr 27, 2011, 10:26 PM EDT
The Miami Heat had a tougher time than expected with a young, well-coached Sixers team for four of the five games in their now concluded first round playoff series. Yes, Miami closed out Philadelphia in Game 5 on Wednesday 97-91, but it was anything but easy.
The Sixers really had it dialed in defensively against Miami for most of the series, limiting easy baskets and forcing the team’s stars into either contested shots in traffic, or long jumpers outside. Game 5 was no different, as the Heat’s top three players combined to shoot just 22 of 54 from the field, with Dwyane Wade being responsible for the majority of that with his 10 for 25 performance.
Philadelphia got big games from Andre Iguodala and Elton Brand (22 points each), and the customary solid bench production from Thaddeus Young, who played the entire fourth quarter and hit all four of his shots in the period. And, they had their chances late, cutting a 10-point fourth quarter deficit to just one, which forced Miami to execute in crunch time to send the Sixers home for the summer.
Philly has gotten a ton of credit for the way they competed in this series, in much the same way that the Pacers impressed with their ability to push the top-seeded Bulls. That’s fine, and the praise is well-deserved. But perhaps what hasn’t been made too much of is the way Miami struggled to score for stretches in this series, including going the final 5:12 of this one without a field goal, before Wade broke away for a celebratory dunk as time expired.
The Heat were able to seal the victory, but it came on shaky terms: Wade picked up a technical foul when his team led by just two with 51 seconds to play, and Miami needed two clutch free throws from Joel Anthony of all people (a 64.4 percent free throw shooter in the regular season who is known only, and I mean only for his defensive abilities) with 16.8 seconds left as part of its close-out effort.
It’s possible that getting the crunch time playoff experience in the first round against a weaker opponent will benefit the Heat in the later rounds, and maybe the Game 4 collapse — where the Sixers closed it on a 10-0 run to erase Miami’s lead and delay elimination — will serve as a similar lesson learned.
We’ll find out beginning Sunday, when the Heat will open their second round series against a veteran Celtics team that has been to the Finals two out of the last three seasons, and knows how to get it done this time of year. Sure, the Sixers pushed the Heat at times. But the Celtics are likely to shove.
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