What we learned about the 76ers in their gutsy win to make the playoffs

A major scheme change in the final two quarters vs. the Heat saved the 76ers from a tough loss and taught them valuable lessons ahead of the Knicks series.
Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers
Miami Heat v Philadelphia 76ers / Tim Nwachukwu/GettyImages

The Philadelphia 76ers had to question their team-wide effort after facing a huge deficit in the first half of the play-in game against the Miami Heat. The offense was stalled, and the visitors put the shackles on them with their trademark zone defense. The tried to prevent them from playing through the center of the paint and finding Joel Embiid deep down under.

Miami butchered Nick Nurse's plan and took the advantage over the Sixers' lethargic play. For the 76ers, it seemed like they did not know that postseason play started for them. However, their struggle against Miami at this point could be a blessing in disguise ahead of the upcoming series vs. the Knicks.

The New York Knicks are in a better spot than the Heat despite missing All-Star big man Julius Randle. They have one of the toughest defenses in the league, as they were steadily inside the top 10 during the regular season, allowing just 112.4 points per 100 possessions.

New York is one of the most physical teams in the association, with wingman Josh Hart rebounding like a center and Donte DiVincenzo executing his two-way role as a perimeter defender and volume shooter. And of course, Jalen Brunson is the head of the snake, carving out his best season yet as a professional.

However, the Sixers learned some valuable lessons against a strong opponent before the first-round series against the Knicks. They will need to apply them all if they want to be competitive, as the Knicks won in 3 of the 4 regular season matchups when facing the Philadelphia 76ers. After all, both teams are capable of setting the stage for a classic playoffs series.

How the 76ers turned their atrocious offense around

In Wednesday's clash, the Philadelphia 76ers were down 14 (51-37) before the end of the first half and closed the second quarter down (51-39). They looked lost during that stint, unable to generate efficient offense as the Heat. The Sixers were displaying atrocious shooting and everything pointed to a nightmarish Play-in debut.

In the second half, things got intense thanks to Nic Batum's explosive three-point barrage and the fact that the Sixers started applying more movement away from the ball-handler. Embiid placed his big body outside the paint and near to the ball-handlers, avoiding the stagnant offense that made him an easy target for the Miami Heat zone defense.

The 76ers were a minus-25.5 in the first half, but ended up registering an offensive rating of 83.0 points per 100 possessions. They dominated in the second half scoring 140 points per 100 possessions. On his part, Embiid gravity made the Heat's zone defense ineffective and created more opportunities for the home side.

The importance of movement on offense will have more weight against the Knicks if Embiid is healthy enough to attract the full attention of the Knicks defense. In the playoffs, you need your superstar to make big plays, but the most important thing rest on his ability to shift defenses towards him and allow teammates to be more engaged.

Moving Embiid outside the paint against Miami gave the Sixers an opportunity to find easy baskets by relying on their bench depth and the ability to operate behind the zone. Zone defense is a usual strategy teams apply during the Playoffs and the Philadelphia 76ers will need to be more versatile in those situations.

Sixers' lethargy cannot happen again vs. Knicks

After a really tough to watch first half, the Sixers rushed out to the court and put pressure on Miami's shaky offense. Philadelphia became more physical, while they went aggressively at the Heat defenders, taking contact gracefully and going into the free throw line. This is something they need to keep doing against the Knicks.

Plus, the star duo of Embiid and Maxey need to be more assertive. Batum might be the best perimeter defender besides De'Anthony Melton in the current 76ers roster. If he can maintain his shooting efficiency, then he will get many opportunities to become a factor in offense.

The perimeter defenders tried to navigate the Heat inside the paint putting Joel Embiid and the rest of the bigs in place to protect the paint. In the series against the New York Knicks, doing exactly that to Jalen Brunson will also be a crucial factor to make the game more arduous for him.

A potential appearance of the Philadelphia 76ers lethargy against the Knicks will put the team in a tough position. The Sixers are capable of beating the New York Knicks in a best-of-seven series, but they will need a lot more of what they did against Miami to achieve their goal.

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