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Sixers must figure out how to beat a zone, and other observations from ugly loss to the Heat | David Murphy

The Sixers suffered their first home loss of the season thanks in large part to their inability to solve the Heat’s zone defense.

Ben Simmons goes up for a shot against Duncan Robinson of the Heat.
Ben Simmons goes up for a shot against Duncan Robinson of the Heat.Read moreCHARLES FOX / Staff Photographer

Come playoff time, you can bet opposing coaches will be firing up the video tape of the second quarter of the Sixers’ 108-104 loss to the Heat on Wednesday night. In a span of about eight minutes, the Sixers saw a 12-point lead become an eight-point deficit thanks in large part to their inability to solve the zone defense that Miami threw at them. The drought started with 7:41 left before halftime, when Heat coach Erik Spoelstra called a timeout following a Furkan Korkmaz three that put the Sixers up 41-29 in a game that they’d led comfortably throughout.

On a granular level, the drought was the result of a horrid stretch of outside shooting, with the Sixers combining to go 1-for-9 from three-point range during that stretch. But just as blatant was the lack of ballhandling that might have helped break down the zone via penetration. The Sixers turned the ball over on four of their 16 offensive possessions during that decisive stretch.

By the time the halftime buzzer mercifully sounded, the Sixers had been outscored 27-7, with the Heat taking a 56-48 lead into the locker room. It didn’t get any better in the second half, with the lack of ballhandling to complement Simmons on repeated display. Early in the fourth quarter, Duncan Robinson hit a three-pointer to give the Heat a 94-80 lead that would soon grow even further. The Sixers would cut the deficit to two on a Tobias Harris corner three with 25 seconds remaining, and Kendrick Nunn would miss two free throws with 12 seconds remaining to give the Sixers a chance to tie. But Al Horford missed a three pointer with under five seconds left and Bam Adebayo hit a couple of free throws to seal the Sixers’ first home loss of the season.

Other notes and observations from the Sixers’ second straight loss:

Low-post game

The Sixers came out of the gate looking to work the ball through Simmons in the post, with their first three possessions featuring Simmons bodying up former teammate Jimmy Butler in the paint. Simmons and Tobias Harris both took advantage of their length early on. With 3:25 left in the first quarter, Harris got Butler to leave his feet on a hesitation dribble and then got to the rim for the bucket and the foul to give the Sixers a 23-13 lead.

Heat’s Nunn a force

The Sixers struggled to match up with rookie point guard Kendrick Nunn, who has emerged from out of nowhere as an early Rookie of the Year candidate. Nunn’s three-pointer at the shot clock buzzer with seven minutes left gave the Heat a 99-83 lead and gave the undrafted rookie 26 points on the night.

Thybulle’s hot start, cold finish

Matisse Thybulle played a big role in helping the Sixers race out to their early lead. In his first shift off the bench, he hit a three-pointer, stole a pass from Butler and finished with a dunk at the other end, and recorded another steal that jump started a break that resulted in a Sixers bucket. But Miami’s zone defense kept Thybulle on the bench for much of the second half.