MIAMI (AP)Shots fell again for the Miami Heat. They kept Joel Embiid and James Harden in check. Their coach got an in-game massage from DJ Khaled.
It was that sort of night for the Heat, who – even without everyone getting shoulder rubs – are feeling pretty good about their playoff prospects again.
Jimmy Butler scored 23 points, Max Strus added 19 points and 10 rebounds, and the Heat moved one win away from a trip to the Eastern Conference finals by topping the Philadelphia 76ers 120-85 on Tuesday.
The 35-point margin of victory matched the biggest so far in this year’s playoffs – Philadelphia beat Toronto by 35 in the series-clincher of that first-round matchup – and matched the second-largest in Heat postseason history.
”They were just more physical,” 76ers coach Doc Rivers said. ”We didn’t run anything. We didn’t run our stuff very well. We played at a snail’s pace … everything they did tonight was harder and better. Their stuff was better, their energy was better.”
Victor Oladipo scored 13 for Miami, which got 12 from Bam Adebayo and 10 apiece from Tyler Herro and P.J. Tucker. The top-seeded Heat now lead the East semifinal series 3-2, and improved to an NBA-best 6-0 at home in these playoffs.
Joel Embiid scored 17 points for fourth-seeded Philadelphia, which got 14 from James Harden and 12 from Tobias Harris. The 76ers were down by 15 going into the fourth quarter, then gave up 12 consecutive points to open the period.
”Tonight, we weren’t focused enough,” Embiid said.
Game 6 is in Philadelphia on Thursday, win-or-else for the 76ers, a chance to move on for the Heat.
”We’re capable of it, if we get some stops,” Butler said. ”It’s a hard place to play.”
So is Miami.
Tyrese Maxey made a deep 3-pointer with 1.5 seconds left in the third to pull Philadelphia within 81-66. Whatever hope remained for the 76ers in that moment was short-lived.
A jumper from Herro and then five straight points from Strus were the start of Miami’s game-sealing flurry that opened the fourth. A three-point play from Adebayo pushed the lead to 25, at which point Embiid checked out with the outcome clearly no longer in question.
”It’s just one game,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”They know it. We know it.”
It was a tough night all the way around for the Sixers, especially for Embiid – their best player, already wearing a mask to protect a facial fracture and dealing with a significant thumb injury.
Embiid got shaken up in the first quarter when he tried to dive into some baseline seats while attempting to save a loose ball. He doubled over shortly afterward, grabbing at his back.
He remained in the game after that scare.
He also remained in the game after the next scare, which was much worse.
It came midway through the second quarter, when Miami’s Dewayne Dedmon missed a shot and Embiid grabbed the rebound. Dedmon, flailing for the ball, made contact with it – and wound up pushing it back into Embiid’s mask-covered face.
”Pretty painful,” Embiid said.
Embiid lost the ball and went down obvious discomfort, covering his face with both hands. Oladipo picked up the ball and scored to make it 42-31, but Embiid writhing was of much greater importance to the 76ers than giving up two points. Embiid remained down for several moments, before making his way back to the Philadelphia bench and getting tended to by doctors.
”He’s tough,” Rivers said. ”I think he knew going into all this that there’s going to be a couple times when he gets hit in the face. It’s going to happen. … He got up and said he was fine, after a while.”
All the second-half highlights belonged to Miami, with the exception of one moment stolen by courtside regular DJ Khaled.
After the ball went out of bounds near his seat, Khaled grabbed the ball from a security guard, handed it to Strus, then headed to the scorer’s table while waving his arms and asking the fans to make some noise. And before returning to his courtside seat, the rapper gave Spoelstra a shoulder massage.
”I was humbled to be a part of that moment,” Spoelstra said. ”He’s such a great fan there. Over the years, I’ve said hello a few times, but that was the best interaction. That was genuine. It was cool.”
76ers: None of Philadelphia’s starters played in the final 8:18. … Maxey, who has been great for the majority of this series, shot 2 for 10. … Georges Niang was 0 for 5, all of those shots from 3-point range, reminiscent of his 0-for-7 stat line – all on 3s – in Game 1.
Heat: After shooting 14 for 65 from 3-point range in the two losses at Philadelphia (21.5%), the Heat shot 13 for 33 from deep on Tuesday (39.4%). … Miami improved to 18-4 all-time in Game 5s at home. … The Heat outrebounded Philadelphia 46-36. … Miami is one of two teams unbeaten at home in these playoffs. Golden State is 5-0.
All-time in best-of-seven series, entering this round, teams that won Game 1 of a matchup ultimately prevail 75.6% of the time. Game 1 winners at home, 85% of the time. Teams that start a series with a 2-0 lead, 92.4% of the time. And teams that win Game 5 for a 3-2 series lead wind up advancing 82.2% of the time. All those stats favor Miami, obviously.
NBA Commissioner Adam Silver attended the game, seated with Ahmad Rashad – whose ties to the league go back decades, primarily for his years as host and executive producer of ”NBA Inside Stuff.” Also in the crowd: NBA champion Mike Miller of the Heat, and longtime baseball star, Miami native and Minnesota Timberwolves co-minority owner Alex Rodriguez.
Game 6 is Thursday in Philadelphia.
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