MIAMI — Georges Niang walked into a secluded room inside the 76ers’ team hotel Tuesday morning and proclaimed to the media crowd that he “[did] not have much for you guys today, just like yesterday.”
It was a self-deprecating way to acknowledge his 0-for-7 outing from three-point range in the Sixers’ 106-92 loss to the Heat in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals. He attributed his uncharacteristic struggles from deep to the “law of averages,” after he made 12 of his 18 attempts over six games against the Toronto Raptors in the previous round.
“I would take those looks in a seven-game series over and over,” Niang said. “... It was bound to happen [at some point], but I trust in my work and the work that I put in. I’m not too worried about it.”
Niang did acknowledge that he took three shots from beyond the arc in the fourth quarter when “you know, the game is probably out of reach, but you probably wanted to see one go in.” But he also said he and the Sixers must be more patient while attacking the Heat’s “hectic” closeouts on long-range shooters by getting into the lane and creating the best looks.
Niang, who shot 40.3% from three-point range on 5.1 attempts per game during the regular season, was far from the only Sixer to misfire on a night when they shot 6-of-34 from deep. Tyrese Maxey went 1-of-6, Danny Green went 1-of-5, Tobias Harris went 1-of-4 and James Harden went 2-of-7.
After Monday’s game, Sixers coach Doc Rivers said he liked about 27 of those shot attempts. But after reviewing the film, Rivers amended his evaluation to say he thought only half were good looks.
“A lot of them were quick, rushed shots,” Rivers said, “and that’s not how we want to play.”
Reed conscious of foul trouble
Without MVP finalist Joel Embiid in Game 1, Paul Reed was the Sixers’ most successful option in their center-by-committee approach. He was active on both ends of the floor, totaling four points on 2-of-6 shooting, nine rebounds (five offensive), four assists, one block and one steal.
But fouling remained an issue for Reed, who picked up five in 13 minutes. Rivers said after the game that those foul concerns were why he started veteran DeAndre Jordan, who was the primary big man on the floor when the Heat built an early 14-point lead and Miami star center Bam Adebayo racked up six points on 3-of-3 shooting and three rebounds in the game’s first four minutes.
Reed, who is playing the most critical minutes of his two-year NBA career, acknowledged that his foul situation seeps into his mind while he is playing.
“I definitely think about, ‘I need to be on the court. I don’t need to foul. I know I got three. If I get another one, I know I’m coming out,’” Reed said. “I definitely think about those things. … But then, in the moment, you got somebody driving into the lane on you. I won’t be trying to let nobody score at all.
“But I know my team needs me right now, big time. So I’ve got to, like, take the pride away and do what’s best for the team.”
To make up for Embiid’s absence, the Sixers also occasionally rolled out small-ball lineups during Game 1.
The results were mixed. A group of Harden, Maxey, Green, Harris, and Niang went on a 10-2 run at the end of the second quarter to flip a 48-41 deficit into a 51-50 halftime lead. But in the fourth quarter, that same group played only about two minutes as part of a stretch when the Sixers’ deficit grew from 11 to 21 points.
“It gave us a lift in the first half. I thought it hurt us in the second half,” Rivers said. “Listen, we’re going to go with a lot of lineups in this [series]. You can see that. But the bottom line is we have to execute and we have to play better.”
Added Niang: “As [Sixers assistant coach] Dan Burke would say, we were scrapping out there. I think that’s the biggest thing. In the playoffs, you’ve just have to fight and claw. … We pushed the pace, spread them out, and were able to open up the paint and get some good looks. Shots were falling in the second quarter.”
Other funky lineups Monday night included a second-quarter spurt when Maxey, Harris, and Niang played with Furkan Korkmaz and Paul Millsap. Rivers also went with a grouping of Maxey, Korkmaz, Harris, Jordan, and Matisse Thybulle early in the fourth quarter, which is when the game started to slip away from the Sixers.