Let’s stay tethered to perspective: Philadelphia, as a comeback play, is a hot story. A trending story. Joel Embiid, out the first two games, returned to change this playoff series against the Miami Heat the last two games.
James Harden was aging and fattening before our eyes before scoring 31 points in Philadelphia’s Game 4 win Sunday night. Philadelphia could be the first team, “in their storied history,” as the TNT broadcast repeatedly said, to come back from an 0-2 deficit to win a series.
So, they’re a hot story in the manner that if you put your ear to the ground, you can feel some vibrations in the distance, a deep and thundering sound of momentum.
“You know how fast that can change?” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said.
OK, he was talking about his players’ wayward 3-point shooting, not the series. But the two are linked.
“We have so many ignitable guys,’ he said.
He mentioned Tyler Herro, Gabe Vincent, Duncan Robinson…
“We see a couple go down, that can turn into four, five, six” – he snapped his fingers – “like that.”
You want perspective? It’s not there in intangibles or the past two Philadelphia wins. It’s right there in the building numbers. The Heat shot 21.5 percent on 3-pointers the last two games in Philadelphia after shooting 35.4 percent at home the first two games.
Philadelphia was the reverse. They shot 21.9 percent on 3-pointers in the first two games in Miami and 48.5 percent in their home games.
So it’s 2-2 series with an advantage to the Heat. Such as this advantage can be gauged since Embiid missed the two games in Miami. But for as irrelevant as the NBA regular season looks as it plays out, this is why the Heat chase that top playoff seed so hard.
For that extra home game in this series. This one game. Maybe that’s the difference here, too. That’s the perspective to keep in a series that’s turned as tough and tense as expected.
The Heat were in trouble all across Sunday’s loss. Bam Adebayo and PJ Tucker were in foul trouble. Kyle Lowry’s recalcitrant hamstring acted up again in a manner that suggests he won’t be a factor this series.
The Heat were so short of big men Markieff Morris made his first appearance these playoffs and had a shot blocked by Embiid that sent Morris reeling as much as the ball.
Talented size is the Heat’s Kryptonite. Milwaukee showed it last playoffs. Embiid will attempt to again in what has become a best two-out-of-three series.
But for all the Heat’s problems Sunday night they were right there to steal the game. Some of that’s the normal course of an NBA game. Some of it’s the Heat’s perpetual ability to never stop, too.
Much of it was Jimmy Butler, too. He had 40 points. He kept coming back at Philadelphia whenever the game looked on the cusp of being done.
“We were banging on the door,’ Spoelstra said. “I just felt the last five minutes they had a handful of possessions that went down to the (shot clock) and they made some big shots. We were defending 24 seconds, 23 seconds, 22 seconds – and they hit a big one.”
Does Harden have another game like this with Embiid back? Can Butler carry the Heat again like that, if needed?
“There’s a slim margin for error on both sides,’ Spoelstra said.
The accepted rule in the NBA is homecourt matters to the role players. And, well, other than Butler for the Heat and Embiid for Philadelphia they’re all role players at this point. Even Adebayo and Harden have defined themselves as such.
Great regular-season stories like Max Strus and Gabe Vincent have been relegated almost to bystanders for much of this series. Victor Oladipo has risen in importance simply because talent matters the deeper you go in the playoffs.
And Duncan Robinson? Does his 3-point shooting bring him off the Siberian bench? The Heat bench is deeper than Philadelphia. But Philadelphia’s bench was more productive Sunday, 19 points to 15.
“I need to get to the film and see what’s real and what’s emotional,’ Spoelstra said.
“We are far from playing our best basketball, that’s an encouraging thing,’ Embiid said.
Perspective isn’t lost because of the last two games. It’s a three-game series with the Heat at home for two, if necessary. The pressure is still on Philadelphia, as trending as story as they are.
The Heat need some of those ignitable players Spoelstra mentioned to ignite in Tuesday’s Game 5 .But everything changes now in a night. Or a player. Or a shot. Or being the No. 1 seed will look as irrelevant as other teams treated it.