Tuesday's NBA: Heat, Suns roll to 3-2 leads; Ja Morant's playoff return doubtful
Miami — 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 76ers, 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.”
►(At) Phoenix 110, Dallas 80: Devin Booker scored 28 points, Deandre Ayton added 20 and the Suns beat the Mavericks to take a 3-2 lead in the Western Conference semifinals.
The Suns used a huge third quarter to turn a tight game into a comfortable win. Phoenix opened up the second half on an 11-4 run, highlighted by Booker’s two 3-pointers, for a 61-50 lead.
Mavs coach Jason Kidd called for a timeout, but it did little to stop the onslaught. The Suns led 82-60 going into the fourth with Booker pouring in 12 points during the third.
While the Suns were finally finding some offensive continuity, the Mavs completely lost theirs, scoring just four points in the first six minutes of the third. At times, the Dallas offense regressed to mostly watching Luka Doncic try and work magic, but he couldn’t do it all by himself.
The Mavs had 12 turnovers during the third quarter.
The top-seeded Suns bounced back after dropping the previous two games and can win the series in Game 6 on Thursday in Dallas.
Memphis All-Star guard Ja Morant is doubtful for the remainder of the NBA postseason after an MRI and further evaluation revealed a bone bruise in his injured right knee.
The Grizzlies said they expect him to make a full recovery.
The NBA’s most improved player had been averaging 38.3 points a game in the Grizzlies’ Western Conference semifinal matchup with Golden State. But he sat out the 101-98 Game 4 loss on Monday with what the team said at the time was a sore knee.
The Grizzlies trail 3-1 in the series with Game 5 set for Wednesday night in Memphis.
Morant reinjured his knee on a play with the Warriors’ Jordan Poole that the teams debated during the Grizzlies’ 142-112 loss in Game 3.
Morant limped off with 6:19 remaining in the game after Poole grabbed at the knee on a play the Warriors guard said was simply an effort to strip the ball.
Afterward, Morant posted and later deleted a video of the play on his Twitter feed with the words “broke the code,” a reference that Warriors coach Steve Kerr had used five days earlier when Dillon Brooks’ hard foul in Game 2 sidelined Gary Payton II.