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NBA play-in: 76ers overcome sluggish 1st half, rally past Heat to set up first-round matchup with Knicks

NBA play-in: 76ers overcome sluggish 1st half, rally past Heat to set up first-round matchup with Knicks

For a half on Wednesday, the Miami Heat’s zone defense flustered the Philadelphia 76ers and prompted boos from the home crowd at Wells Fargo Center. Then a hot run from 3 and a free chicken promotion sparked the 76ers and their fans as Philadelphia rallied from a 14-point deficit to a 105-104 win over the Heat in the NBA play-in tournament.

With the win, the 76ers advance as the No. 7 seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs to face the No. 2 seed New York Knicks in the first round. The loss puts the Heat in Friday’s play-in elimination game against the Chicago Bulls, who beat the Atlanta Hawks in their play-in tournament game. The winner will earn the No. 8 seed. The loser’s season will be over.

Jimmy Butler reportedly injured The Heat could be short-handed for that game. Per The Athletic’s Shams Charania, Jimmy Butler is feared to have suffered an MCL injury in the first half of Wednesday’s game. He’ll have an MRI to determine the nature of the injury, per the report. Butler appeared to injure his knee during a fall in the first quarter. He got up limping and played the rest of the game. He limped gingerly down the tunnel of the Wells Fargo Center postgame.

Heat dominate first half Philadelphia trudged through a sluggish first half that Miami controlled en route to a a 51-39 halftime lead. The 76ers couldn’t work through or over the Heat zone as they shot 32.6% from the field and 3 of 18 (16.7%) from 3.

Philadelphia’s 11th turnover of the half allowed Miami to take a 37-26 lead, prompting a chorus of boos from the home crowd. A 9-0 Heat run capped by a Tyler Herro 3 gave Miami a 51-37 lead and prompted more boos from the Philadelphia faithful. The 76ers looked done.

76ers, crowd come alive after halftime But the crowd woke up midway through the quarter when Miami’s Caleb Martin missed two free throws, triggering a free chicken promotion.

When the 76ers responded with a 5-0 run to cut Miami’s lead to 59-53, the fans were in a frenzy. Nicolas Batum led a 3-point barrage that saw the 76ers go 5 of 9 from long distance in the third quarter as the 76ers cut their deficit to 74-69. Batum’s fifth 3 of the game early in the fourth gave the 76ers a 79-76 lead, their first since the first quarter.

From there, the game was a back-and-forth contest that saw Philadelphia pull away in the final minute. The 76ers hit their free throws down the stretch as Miami attempted to extend the game while trailing in the final seconds.

Embiid struggles, still leads 76ers Joel Embiid scored 11 in the fourth after struggling for much of the game. After sitting the season finale to rest the knee injury that cost him 29 games in the regular season, he looked far from his best against Miami while shooting 6 of 17 from the field. He still managed 23 points, a game-high 15 rebounds and five assists. Batum made six 3-pointers off the bench in a 20-point, five-rebound effort.

After turning the ball over 11 times in the first half, the 76ers finished with 15 for the game. They shot 9 of 17 from 3 in the second half after their disastrous effort in the first to finish 12 of 35 (34.3%) from long distance for the game.

Jimmy Butler led the the first-half defensive onslaught for Miami and tallied 19 points, five assists, four rebounds and five steals. His steals repeatedly led to easy buckets on the other end for the Heat. Tyler Herro overcame a poor shooting night (9 of 27) to lead the Heat with 25 points and nine assists. Bam Adebayo held his own against Embiid with 10 points and 12 rebounds.

But the Heat ultimately fell short when their defense failed to slow Philadelphia’s 3-point shooting in the second half.

How will 76ers fare against Knicks? The win sets up an intriguing first-round playoff matchup between Philadelphia and New York. After falling to the play-in tournament with their MVP candidate sidelined, the 76ers are now securely in the playoffs with Embiid back in the lineup. If he’s anywhere close to full strength for their Game 1 matchup and beyond, the 76ers won’t be an ordinary No. 7 seed.

The Knicks, meanwhile, won’t be playing at full strength. All-Star Julius Randle is out for the season with a shoulder injury. OG Anunoby, however, is back after missing 27 games in the second half of the season with an elbow injury. He played the final six games of the regular season.

Game 1 between the Knicks and 76ers is scheduled for 6 p.m. ET Saturday at Madison Square Garden.

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