Instant Observations: Nic Batum Leads 76ers to Comeback Play-In Victory Over Heat

Instant Observations: Nic Batum Leads 76ers to Comeback Play-In Victory Over Heat Apr 17, 2024; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia 76ers forward Nicolas Batum (40) drives past Miami Heat center Bam Adebayo (13) during the fourth quarter of a play-in game of the 2024 NBA playoffs at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

This will forever be known in Philadelphia as the Nic Batum game. Behind Batum’s season-high 20 points, the Philadelphia 76ers completed a wild comeback 105-104 win over the Miami Heat on Wednesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid finished with 23 points, 15 rebounds and five assists. Tyrese Maxey added 19 points, three rebounds and six assists. De’Anthony Melton (back injury recovery) and Robert Covington (left knee bone bruise) were both out for the Sixers.

Miami was led in the loss by Tyler Herro’s 25 points and nine assists. Jimmy Butler finished with 19 points, four rebounds, five assists and five steals. The Heat were without Terry Rozier (neck spasm) and Josh Richardson (right shoulder surgery).

With the win, the Sixers have earned the seventh seed. They will take on the New York Knicks in the first round of the playoffs. The full series schedule can be found here. The series will begin on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Madison Square Garden in New York. Here are some instant observations from the win over the Heat:


– Nothing was going well for the Sixers. They were down 59-48 midway through the third quarter. However, Caleb Martin missed a pair of free throws, giving the fans some free chicken via the Sixers’ “Bricken for Chicken” arena promotion. The Philly crowd got loud, and the Sixers proceeded to feed off their energy. The Sixers went on an 11-2 run to make it a two-point game with 4:35 remaining in the third quarter.

With the Sixers’ star players struggling to find any rhythm, the role players were forced to step up and fill the void. Batum had his best game of the season, making one clutch play after another. He scored nine points in the third quarter, playing a crucial role in helping give the Sixers some life. Even after Miami realized he was in the midst of a heater, they could not stop Batum. He used a smooth pump fake and sidestep dribble to free himself for a key 3-pointer midway through the fourth quarter.

Batum shot 6-of-10 from 3-point range against the Heat. While the 3-pointer accounted for much of Batum’s offensive production, he also made an incredible put-back layup with 4:12 left in the game.

The Frenchman also made his impact felt on the defensive end of the floor. He played strong defense on Butler throughout the second half. However, his best defensive play of the night came while defending Herro in the final minute of action. With the Sixers up by three and under a minute remaining, he blocked a Herro 3-pointer that could have potentially tied the game.

Batum made a ton of winning plays for the Sixers. Without his play on both ends of the floor, the Sixers would have stood no chance of winning this contest.

Buddy Hield was another one of the Sixers’ role players who stepped up in the second half. After getting off to an ugly start, he played a big role in turning the game around for the Sixers. He was dialed in, attacking Miami closeouts by driving the basket and either finishing or whipping a pass out to an open player on the perimeter. His jumper was not falling, but he found other ways to impact the game. Hield finished the game with seven points and six assists.

Kyle Lowry’s impact can be felt much more than the box score shows. He opened the game defending Butler, making things as tough as possible for Butler to get into a rhythm. The 18-year veteran made some winning plays throughout the game. He hustled to grab a few loose balls and got his hands into the driving lanes to cause a couple turnovers. One example of his impact occurred in the first quarter when Lowry, after making a 3-pointer in the corner, sprinted down the floor to defend Butler and prevent him from getting an easy basket. Lowry did not have an efficient night shooting the basketball, but he still made his presence known in multiple other ways.

– The Sixers’ first half performance can be summed up in one word: brutal. Embiid was a large reason why the Sixers were unable to get anything going in the first half. However, he turned things around when it mattered most.

In the midst of a back-and-forth game in the final three minutes of action, Embiid flipped a switch and put the Sixers offense on his back. He drilled a 3-pointer from the top of the key to give the Sixers a two-point lead with 2:33 left to play. On the team’s next possession, he grabbed an offensive rebound through traffic and rose up to make an and-one floater.

His biggest play of the night showcased the growth he made as a passer this season. The game was all knotted up at 96 with under a minute remaining. Embiid looked off a double team, surveyed the defense and threaded the needle with a beautiful pass that set up Kelly Oubre Jr. for the layup and the foul.

That type of play is not one Embiid would have made earlier in his career. It showed his improved patience, passing and ability to handle the double teams opposing defenses throw his way. Embiid did not have his best game, but he shined when the moment most called for it.


– One of the keys for the Sixers heading into this game was to find ways to succeed against Miami’s zone defense. They had some positive results against it in the regular season, but that was not the case in this contest.  The Sixers put together some absolutely brutal possessions against the zone. They were unable to consistently get the ball to Embiid, and their perimeter players began to play with hesitancy. The result was a bunch of turnovers towards the end of the shot clock, leading to Miami points in transition. The Sixers committed five turnovers and were outscored 15-6 in the final 4:39 of the first quarter.

Their problems against the zone hounded them for the remainder of the first half. The Sixers committed the second lowest amount of turnovers per game in the regular season. They coughed the ball up 11 times in the first half alone, nearly matching their season average in just one half of play.

Miami did a good job preventing the Sixers from consistently getting the ball to Embiid in his typical spots on the floor. The Sixers spent far too many possessions passing it back and forth along the perimeter while attempting to get it to Embiid. When they did manage to get it to Embiid, the big fella failed to execute. He missed multiple looks at the rim and played far too passively against the zone defense.

However, most of the Sixers’ struggles against the zone can be laid at Maxey’s feet. He got off to a slow start as a scorer and then proceeded to start second guessing all of his decisions with the ball. He passed up multiple open 3-pointers he would typically have taken without hesitation. After doing an excellent job of taking care of the basketball this season, he fell apart on that front as well. Maxey committed three turnovers in the first half alone. He had far too many possessions where he looked completely lost against the zone defense.

Tobias Harris had a rough night offensively. He airballed a couple of his 3-pointers and had a sequence where he grabbed an offensive rebound and missed four layup attempts at the rim. However, it was not all bad for Harris. He crashed the glass hard, grabbing 10 rebounds. His night ultimately ended when he was subbed out with 4:12 remaining in the fourth quarter.

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