NBA playsoffs daily results: Heat and Suns stumble on the road in Game 3s

By | May 8, 2022
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Game 3: Sixers 99, Heat 79 | Heat lead 2-1

Who was the guy? Joel Embiid. Of course, it’s the Philadelphia 76ers’ franchise player and MVP finalist. Out of nowhere Friday afternoon, Embiid was likely to play after missing the first two games of the series with a mild concussion and an orbital fracture. He didn’t necessarily look like an MVP finalist in this game, but he also didn’t look like DeAndre Jordan. Embiid’s presence settled everything down for the Sixers. The Miami Heat were a lot more hesitant to attack. They were a lot more hesitant to fly around the court defensively. By the end of the game, Embiid had played 36 minutes and racked up 18 points and 11 rebounds. He was the calming force and presence the Sixers needed. Now we’ve got a whole new series.

What was the key here? Miami not winning the minutes Embiid was off the floor. In fact, the Heat kind of got trounced during those minutes. The Sixers were plus-8 when Embiid was on the floor. That’s pretty good. Certainly good enough to win. But there were stretches in the first and second halves when the Heat could have taken advantage of Embiid being on the bench. Instead, the Sixers were plus-12 total in the 12 minutes he wasn’t in the game. The Heat not capitalizing on that doomed them. It meant everybody had to work a lot harder to claw back into this. They did it in the third quarter, but they ran out of clawing in the fourth. That wouldn’t have been necessary if they’d taken care of business in those 12 minutes without Embiid.

Key stat: 47 versus 9. Bam Adebayo had 47 points total in the first two games of this series. He was clearing over 70 percent of his field goal attempts. He had nine points in Game 3 with Embiid back in the lineup. No Jordan meant Adebayo didn’t have as much freedom to play. He was also a lot more timid in how he approached the offensive end of the floor with Embiid roaming and lurking. Milwaukee dared him to shoot the midrange shot confidently last postseason, and he wilted in those moments. He has similar options against Embiid, and he has to be aggressive in taking those looks to make Embiid uncomfortable.

The moment it was over: Shortly after an amazing steal by Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers capitalized again to put this thing away. After that 3-point play by Embiid, Jimmy Butler came back down and hit a couple of free throws to bring it back to 10. The Sixers responded with Danny Green hitting a 3-pointer off a pass from Maxey. The Heat got one free throw on the next possession from Adebayo, and the Sixers followed it up with Maxey hitting his own 3-pointer. That’s trading a 2-pointer and a free throw for two 3-pointers. It put the Sixers up 15 with 3:29 left, and they never had to look back.

The moment of the game: Speaking of that brilliant Maxey steal … with about five minutes left in the fourth quarter and the Heat down nine, Miami created a big opportunity on defense. PJ Tucker blitzed James Harden from the side to knock the ball away and gain possession. Victor Oladipo started streaking out ahead with Jimmy Butler not that far behind on the left side. Tucker threw the pass out in front of Oladipo for him to track it down and get an easy score to cut it to seven. Bu Maxey came shooting ahead to end up knocking the ball away. Before it went out of bounds off him, Maxey gained control, threw it over his head back toward half court and Harden secured it.

The Sixers missed a 3-pointer on that new possession, but they grabbed the offensive board. Eventually, Embiid hit a jumper, drew a foul on Adebayo and converted the three-point play. All of a sudden, what should have become a seven-point game was now a 12-point game with 4:38 left.

What can the Heat do to win Game 4? Not be so lethargic to start. The Heat were timid on both ends of the floor with Embiid starting, and we didn’t see the same crispness. Kyle Lowry being back in the lineup wasn’t some seamless addition. He was out of sync on defensive rotations. He wasn’t getting the ball into the middle of the floor. And Butler seemed to wait too long to get aggressive. The Heat just looked as if they hoped Philly would fall apart. Take care of the ball. Set up those 3-pointers a little more cleanly. And defend the corners.

What can the Sixers do to win Game 4? Embiid being on the floor was obviously the biggest adjustment, but Maxey also had a big stretch in the second half that they could have used more of in the first half. They did a great job of shooting the 3-pointer, and the Sixers got 18 free-throw attempts out of Harden and Embiid. That’s good. But only 28 points in the paint. They can force the issue more, and it’ll help set up sound shots from the perimeter. They don’t need to tweak a whole lot from Game 3. Just keep Embiid comfortable with that mask.

Heat Worry Meter: 😎😎

Sixers Worry Meter: 🔔🔔


Game 3: Mavericks 103, Suns 94 | Suns lead 2-1

Who was the guy? Jalen Brunson. Yes, we know Luka Dončić is the heart and foundation of the Dallas Mavericks, and he was great in this game. But Brunson being able to complement his play on the floor, and even lead the Mavs a lot like he did against Utah, is what keyed this win. Brunson led the Mavs with 28 points, and he was an absolute terror in two ways. He was great at attacking as the primary initiator, but more importantly, he was so dangerous to the Phoenix Suns when he attacked closeouts off the swing pass. That helped give the Mavs the offensive balance necessary to put this Phoenix defense on its heels.

What was the key here? The Mavs found room for Brunson to go off while Dončić was still able to do what we expect him to do. The Mavs were able to set the pace in this game because they competed a lot better defensively than what we saw in the previous two games. But once they did that, the balance between Brunson and Luka was magic. Dončić gave 26 points, 13 rebounds and nine assists. The numbers were great. The Suns were trying to stop him from being a playmaker. And at times, he just gave way to Brunson running the show. The Suns didn’t have a counter to that balanced attack.

Key stat: Seven. On his 37th birthday, Chris Paul had seven turnovers. It’s just the 13th time in his career — regular season or playoffs — that Paul has committed at least seven turnovers. It’s only the third time it has happened in the postseason. Paul is 6-7 in those games in his career, and he’s now 1-2 in the postseason when it happens. You’re not supposed to be the ones giving out gifts on your birthday. Maybe it’s a rich guy thing?

The moment it was over: Dončić picked up his fifth foul with the Mavs leading 90-73 with 8:07 remaining. He left the game, and immediately, the Suns cut the deficit to 12 points. But the Mavs brought in Maxi Kleber for a little size, they competed with the Suns for the next few minutes, and by the time Dončić checked back into the game with 4:39 left, the lead was still double digits. The Suns were down 11, and they hadn’t made the run they needed to make in roughly three and a half minutes.

The moment of the game: There was one post-up by Dončić against Mikal Bridges that was absolutely vicious. Dončić put his shoulder into Bridges several times as if he were in a zombie movie, trying to keep the door closed from an invasion while someone tried to find furniture to build a barricade from the inside. Bridges tried to turn it into a charge by hitting the ground, but Dončić never really dipped his shoulder enough to commit the offensive foul. He flexed a bit. He complained about the contact not being a defensive foul. And the Mavs bench all did the “too small” hand near the ground motion.

What can the Suns do to win Game 4? Take care of the ball, and keep the Mavs out of the paint. Dallas had 50 paint points against the Suns in Game 3. This is a jump shooting team. Jump shooting teams shouldn’t get half their points in the paint. The Suns have to tighten up the point of attack defense. Dončić was a bully in this game, no matter the defender. When he drove, he put his shoulder into guys to move them off their spots. He did it in the post too. And Brunson was able to do the same thing, despite being one of the smallest guys on the court. The Suns gave the ball up too much, and they gave up positioning on defense too much.

What can the Mavs do to win Game 4? Jason Kidd’s formula for the Mavs was fairly simple but still something they needed to figure out how to do. Their plan was Game 3 was two-fold: 1) Get Dončić to give them a little bit on defense just so they have time as a team to help out. He did that enough. 2) Get the ball into the heart of the Suns’ defense by getting into the paint and causing problems for Phoenix. Brunson and Dončić did that. This formula can help the Mavs even up the series if they get it to happen in Game 4. But the defense against Phoenix will be the harder thing to pull off.

Suns Worry Meter: ☀️

Mavs Worry Meter: 🤝🤝

(Photo: Kevin Jairaj / USA Today)

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