A friend declared to me, as a declaration not a question, that we have begun the biggest week in South Florida sports history. I went a step further: This might be the best time to be a sports fan in Greater Miami.
Monday night didn’t hurt. It fit both ways.
The Miami Heat beat Philadelphia 106-92 to open this NBA Eastern Conference semifinal series, sending the sellout crowd spilling happily out of the downtown arena and onto Biscayne Boulevard.
It was about time and the timing was right.
More Bam, please.
With 76ers center Joel Embiid out injured, it was the perfect time for Bam Adebayo to enjoy a breakout game offensively this postseason. And, after averaging a mild 12.8 points in the playoffs’ first round, he did just that with 24 points on 8-for-10 shooting, along with 12 rebounds.
“Both ends of the court. His relentlessness, that effort,” said coach Erik Spoelstra of Adebayo.
And Tyler Herro? He all but cinched the NBA’s Sixth Man of the Year award with 25 points off the bench including four 3-points baskets.
“A big-time X factor for us when he’s in that kind of rhythm,” said Spoelstra.
Jimmy Butler was quiet with 15 points on only 5-for-16 shooting, but Herro and Adebayo stepped up.
“Just kick in on it,” Herro said afterward. “We won the first series as we should have. Now we keep moving on and taking care of business.”
We are at the nexus of upbeat in South Florida, hope bubbling for all of our biggest teams in a way that feels unprecedented.
The Heat and Florida Panthers are poised to make history by both advancing in the playoffs the same season for the first time, if the heavily favored Cats can win their first round series that begins Tuesday night vs. Washington. One is among favorites to win the Stanley Cup; the other believes it can reach the NBA Finals, underlining the notion in Game 1 Monday.
Optimism is all around. It surrounds the Dolphins. The Marlins are winning. Inter Miami just won big in the Freedom Park stadium vote, a watershed for the third-year soccer franchise. The first Miami Grand Prix of Formula One racing roars (loudly) this coming weekend.
Enthusiasm spikes for Hurricanes football, too, after Canes men’s basketball just reached the NCAA Elite Eight for the first time and UM baseball is highly ranked and thinking College World Series.
Miami squandered a 14-point lead and trailed 51-50 at halftime as Philly’s zone defense seemed to bother the Heat.
“We got a little bit disjointed in that second quarter,” Spoelstra said. “The turnovers got us out of rhythm.”
The lapse was short-lived.
Miami dominated after halftime, with Herro providing a spark and the Heat’s tenacious D seeming to tire out the 76ers.
That defense limited the Sixers’ James Harden to 16 points on 5-for-13 shooting, and forced 14 turnovers. Credit P.J. Tucker for Harden’s quiet night. Tucker would guard him every day in practice when they were Houston teammates.
“They need him to be him,” said Tucker of Harden. “It’s my job to make it tough.”
Said Adebayo: “[P.J.] knows his tendencies better than anyone. You can’t ask for a better player to guard him.”
The teams are back at it in Miami for Game 2 Wednesday night. Embiid again will be out, while Miami hopes to have back point guard Kyle Lowry, who has missed the past three games with a strained hamstring.
These teams split four games during the regular season, when Miami won only two more games than Philly, yet the Heat entered a clear betting favorite — only magnified by Embiid’s orbital-fracture injury on top of a sprained thumb. The Sixers’ MVP-candidate superstar could return as early as Game 3 or 4.
This is the deepest playoff meeting between the clubs. Heat and Sixers previously met twice in the first round, in 2011 and ‘18.
Miami is 9-3 on series advances in this round or later when winning Game 1, with Philly now desperate to avoid a 2-0 hole.
“The key for us to is hang in there, keep fighting, keep playing at a pace that we want to play,” said Sixers coach Doc Rivers, on playing sans Embiid. “We all have to pull our own weight for sure. and do more.”
The Heat keep reminding us how they got here.
They did it in the first round in frustrating Atlanta star Trae Young. Did it Monday night in limiting Harden.
A bedrock foundation of excellent defense is the strength Miami can summon even when the shots aren’t dropping.
It’s a strength meant for the postseason as maybe the biggest week in South Florida sports history unfurls.
This story was originally published May 2, 2022 10:04 PM.