PHILADELPHIA — Down by 23 points at halftime, being serenaded by a smattering of boos from the crowd while walking into the locker room and playing without one of the team’s cornerstones, Philadelphia 76ers head coach Brett Brown actually thought his team was not in bad shape. The only question he had for his team at the break was whether, collectively, they were going to come out flying to start the final 24 minutes.
If you looked closely, a number of the Sixers players seemed to have wings on their backs as they carried Philadelphia to its largest comeback victory in four years.
Spearheaded by another triple-double from Ben Simmons and, led by newly acquired shooting guard Marco Belinelli, the best collective performance from its bench this season, Philadelphia stormed back to defeat the Miami Heat 104-102 at Wells Fargo Center on Wednesday, the team’s ninth consecutive win at home and 11th straight win in their home building in Philadelphia. All of it was done without the services of center Joel Embiid, who was a late scratch before tonight’s game due to swelling in his ankle.
Simmons collected his sixth triple-double of the season (18 points, 12 rebounds, 10 assists) as he almost compiled his latest feat in the second half alone, with 10 points, eight rebounds and six assists in the third and fourth quarters combined. He needed to be assertive at that moment, because no one on the Sixers could have been considered a positive contributor to the winning cause as the Heat raced out to a 62-39 lead by halftime.
If it was cause for concern, Brown sure was hiding that when he came into the locker room to deliver an uplifting talk to his squad.
“There’s enough firepower in the room,” Brown said to describe what his message was to the team at the break. “There’s enough time, there’s enough firepower, we’re at home, [Miami] played last night, [our] guys are in great shape. It was all about, ‘Do we guard, and do we fly?'”
The Sixers soared to 34 points in the third quarter, led by Dario Saric’s 14 points, as he hit two three-pointers while also attacking the basket, which led to him attempting – and making – six free throws in the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the combination of Belinelli and reserve forwards Trevor Booker and Richaun Holmes took flight. Belinelli, signed just two days ago after clearing waivers after being bought out by the Atlanta Hawks, made a rousing debut while fitting in nicely with the Sixers’ offense. Never shy to turn down a look to shoot, Belinelli hit three three-pointers and scored 11 of his 17 points in the final stanza. His back-to-back threes with nine minutes remaining cut Miami’s lead to 86-82 as he electrified the Wells Fargo Arena with his long-range display.
Holmes and Booker sent the crowd into a full-on frenzy with their blue-collar dirty work inside, reflective of the blue-collar city. The two reserves combined for 20 points and 18 rebounds in the game, with Booker (nine points, nine rebounds) grabbing three of his five rebounds in the fourth quarter on the offensive glass, while Holmes (11 points, nine rebounds) playing all but one second of the fourth quarter as the Sixers outscored the Heat by 10 points when he was on the floor in the quarter.
All of that adds up to, quite possibly, the most satisfying win Philadelphia has had this season.
“It could be number one, it feels like it’s the best [win] as I speak,” said Brown. “I think when you have a disruption, not to be in a negative way, but the ecosystem got changed a little bit when there’s no Joel and here comes Richaun. I thought Richaun was tremendous. Justin Anderson out, and then you give Marco all these minutes and, no matter what we think of their talents, which we think highly of, they still haven’t played a second of basketball with us and it rocks your ecosystem.
“So my thing is, as I look at our bench, I see the contributions that Richaun made and Trevor Booker made and Marco Belinelli made, kind of unlikely suspects to flip a game that we were losing by 24 at home and claw back and have a tremendous win and to achieve our goal of winning the five games at home sure makes the holiday a heck of a lot more enjoyable.”
The break comes as a necessary one for the Heat, who hit their high watermark of 29-21 after a Jan. 29 win over Dallas but have now lost seven of eight – including two road losses to the Sixers this month.
“We will have some time to disengage,” said Heat head coach Erik Spoelstra. “It’s disappointing. We all feel that right now. Two or three days from now we will all probably be able to find some perspective, and five or six days from now we will be itching to get back together with this group and then get back to work and start to really hone in on this group to make a big push in the last 20-something games.”
Miami held the Sixers to their lowest first-half points total (39) and field goal percentage (34%) in any first half this season, but could not keep up that momentum in the second half as Philadelphia outrebounded the Heat 60-29 in the contest.
“It was tough blocking out,” said Spoelstra. “It was tough going up and getting it with two hands we had several where we touched the ball and didn’t come down with it. Sometimes we wouldn’t come down strong enough inbounds and our guards were running in instead of trying to corral some of the long rebounds. That’s a tough lesson, we’ve rebounded much better than that.”
Off the bench, James Johnson led the Heat with 22 points, while starters Goran Dragic had 18 points and Hassan Whiteside had 16 points and 10 rebounds. Dwyane Wade, back with the Heat after being traded by the Cavaliers last week, scored 13 points and had his three-pointer hit off the front of the rim at the buzzer that would have won the game for Miami.
“I said, if I could have paused it in mid-air, I would have bet all my contracts on it [going in],” Wade said about the final shot. “I would have been broke right now. I thought that was in.”
*Editor’s note: A Lot of Sports Talk sends our sincere condolences and love go out to the Parkland, Fla. community, located less than an hour’s drive north of Miami, after the act of terrorism at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that claimed the lives of 17 people. While we might feel helpless in our efforts to bring any comfort to your community, at the very least, we can use our platform to demand policy change in this country and express our opinion that military-grade weaponry at assault rifles, created only for the sole purpose of killing numbers of people, should never be available for purchase by civilians and be out on the streets. Special interest groups, like the National Rifle Association, and the limitless amount of money they pour into the pockets of congressmen for their election campaigns, should be removed from politics altogether. Please go to the Wolf PAC website for more on what you can do to help in the efforts to remove money out of politics.