MIAMI — The Miami Heat didn’t have their best in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinal series against the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night — but it was still good enough.
Despite again playing without starting point guard Kyle Lowry and shooting 9-for-36 from 3-point range, the Heat were good enough to topple the Joel Embiid-less 76ers, winning 106-92 in front of a sellout crowd of 19,620 at FTX Sand.
“You don’t want to add more context to anything,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said when asked if there was more pressure to take advantage of the Sixers without Embiid. “You want to stay in the present moment. It’s really just trying to do whatever you have to do to get to the next game, or the game at hand. And that’s all we’re going to focus on. We haven’t had any discussions about, ‘Hey, we have to win tonight.’ I think that adds a different kind of context and pressure.
“It’s just about trying to go out and putting together your best game plan to win that game. And that’s what we’ll focus on the next 48 hours — is just on Game 2.”
Miami’s performance in Game 1 was one to forget. It shot just 43% from the field, and received a pedestrian performance from star forward Jimmy Butler (15 points on 5-for-16 shooting).
The 76ers, however, were that much worse. They shot 6-for-34 from 3-point range, committed 15 turnovers that became 22 points for the Heat and were outrebounded 47-37, including 15-9 on the offensive glass — which helped the Heat get up 13 more shots.
“Very similar to the [first round against] Toronto, in that we told our guys they can’t have more rebounds than us, they can’t force turnovers because they can’t have more shots than us,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said.
“We’re working with a small margin for error, so we can’t give a team 13 extra shots on the road without Joel and think we’re going to win a game.”
Philadelphia will have to play at least one more game without Embiid, who is out with an orbital fracture and concussion suffered in Game 6 against Toronto. But the 76ers admitted they let a winnable game get away, particularly with Lowry out again with an injured hamstring and them holding the Heat offensively downly.
“Obviously we’re not trying to miss shots, but things we can control are rebounding the basketball and not turning the basketball over,” said James Harden, who scored 16 points on 5-of-13 shooting, took just four free throws and had five assists and five turnovers. “That’s things we can control, and once we do that next game we’ll have a better chance of winning.”
There was also a collective frustration over the way Miami was able to use its physicality to control the game. Miami All-Star center Bam Adebayo ran roughshod in Embiid’s absence, finishing with 24 points on 8-of-10 shooting with 12 rebounds and four assists in 33 minutes.
The 76ers were particularly frustrated with their play in the third quarter. The Heat controlled the glass and surged back into the lead after trailing by one at the half, in part because Philly allowed some misses to get into its head.
“I definitely thought we got the looks we wanted,” said Tobias Harris, who continued to impress with 27 points on 11-for-18 shooting in 36 minutes. “Sometimes, it happens. It’s a make-or-miss league.
“We’d take those same looks the next game as well. We just have to be prepared and put up the same type of looks that we may be able to get. We just have to make them.
“Tonight, they didn’t fall for us, and I think that dropped our energy on the defensive end a little bit. Hopefully those shots are there next game, and we capitalize.”
Embiid’s replacement in the starting lineup, DeAndre Jordan, was minus-22 in 17 minutes. Backup Paul Reed was productive in his 13 minutes, with four points, nine rebounds and four assists — but he also picked up five fouls.
Rivers said Jordan will start in Game 2 on Wednesday and for as long as Embiid is out, saying he played much better to start the second half than he did the first, when the 76ers immediately fell behind.
“We like DJ, we’re going to keep starting him whether you like it or not,” Rivers said. “That’s what we’re gonna do because our guys believe in him. It’s funny at halftime, we asked our key guys, we were thinking about it because I thought Paul Millsap gave us decent minutes, and to a man, that’s where they wanted to go.”
The 76ers said they felt confident that, from what they learned in Game 1, they can even the series in Game 2 before it shifts to Philadelphia for Games 3 and 4 on Friday and Sunday.
“Obviously we’re missing Joel, but it’s out of our control,” Harden said. “We got to go out there and man up and be great, and I know we will.”