The product inside the Wells Fargo Center on Tuesday night was a prime example of why the NBA’s non-bubble pandemic season has been a struggle.
It’s also a reason why the league and the National Basketball Players Association agreed to additional measures to supplement COVID-19 health and safety protocols.
The contest was exciting. But the Philadelphia 76ers and the Miami Heat were both shells of themselves in a game that was far from the NBA standard. It will go down as a 137-134 overtime victory that snapped the Sixers’ three-game losing streak.
Joel Embiid and Danny Green were the difference in this one.
Embiid finished with game highs of 45 points, 16 rebounds and five steals for the Sixers (8-4). Twenty of his points came in the third quarter, during which he made all eight of his shots from the field while going 4-for-4 from the foul line, where he finished the game 13-for-13. His 20-foot jumper with 4.3 seconds left in regulation knotted the score at 120. He went on to score the Sixers’ first nine points in overtime. Then, with his team up 134-132, Embiid hit a pair of foul shots to make it a four-point game with 8.9 seconds left.
“It was needed,” Embiid said of scoring 11 straight points. “We needed tonight. We lost three games in a row. Our mentality should always be we should never lose two games in a row, and we lost three in a row.
“So there was no chance we were going down, losing four in a row. So whatever I had to do and whatever my teammates had to did. And we got the win.”
However, it was close.
Miami’s Duncan Robinson was fouled while attempting a three-pointer with 5.8 seconds remaining. He made the first two. On the third attempt, he tried to hit the ball off the rim. But the ball missed the rim, and the Sixers were awarded the ball on a free-throw violation. The Sixers went on to win by three after the Heat’s Andre Iguodala missed a desperation corner three at the buzzer.
Meanwhile, Green made a career-high nine three-pointers, tying a franchise record, en route to a season-high 29 points. His shooting effort erased memories from Monday’s loss in Atlanta, when he went 0-for-9 from the field with seven missed threes.
The Sixers’ Ben Simmons finished with five points and 12 assists before fouling out with 3 minutes, 29 seconds remaining in regulation. He only attempted two shots after missing the previous two games with swelling in his left knee. Rookie Tyrese Maxey, who had 16 points and eight assists, fouled out with 32.2 seconds left in regulation.
Tyler Herro paced Miami with 34 points.
The Heat (4-5) had just eight available players compared to 10 for the Sixers, who played with nine Monday and seven Saturday.
A lot of that had to do with the league’s protocols. The Sixers had five players — Seth Curry, Tobias Harris, Shake Milton, Matisse Thybulle, and Vincent Poirier — sidelined due to the protocols for the third consecutive game. Harris, Milton, Thybulle, and Poirier might return for Saturday’s game at Memphis after missing seven days because of contact tracing for COVID-19.
According to the NBA protocol, a player must isolate at least 10 days after the first positive test or onset of symptoms, or have two negative tests at least 24 hours apart via PCR testing. So one would assume that Curry, who tested positive for the coronavirus, will return for the Jan. 20 game against Boston, at the earliest.
“I don’t even know, honestly,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said when asked of Curry’s expected return. “I think it requires him passing two negative and plus the cardio test. So he still has a lot of steps ahead of him.”
Terrance Ferguson is still away from the team attending to a family matter, while Furkan Korkmaz (left groin strain) will have his status determined before Saturday’s game.
But at least on Tuesday, the Sixers were able to play with three of their regular starters in Embiid, Simmons and Green. They were joined by Mike Scott and rookie Maxey in the starting lineup.
Meanwhile, the Heat weren’t as fortunate.
They were without All-Stars Jimmy Butler and Bam Adebayo in addition to six other players due to protocols. Another player, Meyers Leonard, was sidelined with a strained left shoulder.
This was the Heat’s first game after having Sunday’s scheduled game at Boston postponed. That was one of five NBA games postponed this season due to a team not having the minimum eight players available because of the protocols or injuries. The Celtics have been involved in three of them.
That’s a not good thing, considering Tuesday marked the 23rd day of the 2020-21 season. In response to the uptick of NBA teams requiring player quarantines, the league released new measures on Tuesday.
Some of the measures involve players and team staff being required to remain in their residence for the next two weeks while in the home market. Also for the next two weeks, pregame meetings in the locker room are limited to 10 minutes and participants must wear masks. Teams must also submit a seating plan on planes to ensure that players who sit closest to each other in games are doing the same on the planes.
Another new measure involves players being prohibited from arriving at the arena more than three hours before tip-off. Players must also limit interactions to elbow or fist bumps before and after games. They must also wear masks on the bench at all times and stay at least 6 feet apart.
It appears the league is attempting to do everything it can to duplicate the bubble it had last summer at the 2019-20 season restart in Kissimmee, Fla., without actually being in a bubble.
“All I can do is hope,” Rivers said. “The league, the way they ran the bubble was fantastic. ... Listen, we are not in a bubble. I don’t care how many times we call it a bubble, we are in cities. So we just have to do our best, everyone.
“You know, obviously, everyone actually [is] doing their best and we’re still getting it. So I think we just have to be more careful.”
Rivers isn’t concerned with the rules about no chest bumps. He doesn’t think that’s the reason the coronavirus is spreading. He thinks it’s being contracted from the outside of the basketball setting and being brought inside.
“So we just have to be more vigilant when we are away from arenas and practice facilities,” Rivers said, “because I think that’s the safest place you can be. When we walk outside is when the real world comes into our level.”