This time the 76ers, with reinforcements returning, had no problem with the depleted Miami Heat.
The Sixers welcomed back Shake Milton, Tobias Harris, and Matisse Thybulle, who each missed the past three games due to health and safety protocols. None of them showed much rust in Thursday’s 125-108 win over the Heat at the Wells Fargo Center.
Milton scored 31 points, Harris 18, and Thybulle 8 as the Sixers got their second win in three days over the Heat in this baseball-type series in Philadelphia. On Tuesday, the Sixers earned a 137-134 overtime win.
“They were great, all of them,” coach Doc Rivers said of Harris, Milton, and Thybulle. “Tobias just giving us a lift at the four (power forward), changing Miami’s lineup, how they wanted to defend us. Shake was obviously incredible tonight and Matisse was phenomenal defensively, he made so many plays. That is the Matisse we need every night.”
For the second straight game against the Sixers, Miami had the minimum of eight players at coach Erik Spoelstra’s disposal. The Sixers had 10 players but only played eight in Tuesday’s win. On Thursday, they had 14 available players and 10 had seen action before the first quarter ended.
Milton especially showed plenty of pep. He had 19 of his 31 points at halftime as the Sixers led 73-58.
The 6-foot-5 combo guard has shown a great ability to get his own shot off the dribble. He can take smaller defenders to the basket, but also gives the Sixers a viable perimeter and three-point threat.
Milton entered the game shooting just 27.5% from beyond the arc, after shooting 43% last season. He hit all three of his three-pointers in the first half.
Harris also set the tone early, by scoring nine points in the first quarter. He said he stayed in shape over the last week by doing countless errands in his house.
“I was lifting a lot of these heavy boxes and opening them and bringing the garbage out and that’s really it right here,” said Harris. “I was very happy to be out of the house after seven days.”
Thybulle, besides the eight points, had four steals and a blocked shot.
Before the game, Rivers said he didn’t know how long the three would play. They had not played since last Thursday’s 122-109 loss at Brooklyn.
The Sixers were only without two rotation players -- starting shooting guard Seth Curry, who missed his fifth straight game after testing positive for COVID-19 last week, and Furkan Korkmaz, out for the 10th straight game with a groin injury.
Among the missing for Miami due to health and safety protocols, were Bam Adebayo and former Sixer Jimmy Butler, All-Stars from a year ago, and Goran Dragic who is averaging 14.8 points. That is a lot of firepower.
Before the game coach Rivers insisted that his relationship with Ben Simmons was fine after the Sixers point guard was very much in play during trade talks with the Houston Rockets for James Harden. As it turns out, Harden was traded to Brooklyn, and Simmons remains a Sixer. Amateur psychologists will have a field day looking into the relationship between Simmons and not only Rivers, but the franchise.
He finished with a triple-double of 10 points, 10 rebounds, and 12 assists on Thursday and didn’t want to say too much about how he was affected by seeing his name in trade rumors.
“This is a business, things like that happen,” Simmons said. “The only thing I can control is how i approach my workouts, games and day-to-day things so I’m just trying to be professional, do the right thing and help my team get wins.”
The Sixers went on a 14-1 run to close the first quarter and take a 38-30 lead. They continued to push the ball at a fast pace in the second quarter, similar to what Atlanta did to a depleted Sixers team in Monday’s 116-94 loss to the Hawks.
What’s interesting is that Simmons and Embiid only combined for nine first-half points while the rest of the team put up 64. After torching the Heat for 45 points Tuesday, Embiid wasn’t close to the same dominating figure, finishing with nine points in less than 24 minutes.
The Sixers led 98-78 after three quarters.
One thing that Miami showed is that when the full team returns, last year’s Eastern Conference finalist should be a handful.
The Heat play as hard as any team in the NBA and second-year guard Tyler Herro, a standout in last year’s playoffs, showed his improvement in both games against the Sixers. Known for his long-range shooting, what Herro did well against the Sixers was drive it to the basket for most of his 17 points. Duncan Robinson led the Heat with 22.
Sixers forward Mike Scott, who was scoreless in 5 minutes and 10 seconds in the first half, was sidelined the rest of the game with right knee soreness.