76ers vs. Heat score: What we learned as Nic Batum steps up to lead Philly to No. 7 seed, date with Knicks (2024)

The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on to face the New York Knicks in the 2024 NBA playoffs. A big second half propelled Philadelphia to a 105-104 comeback win against the Miami Heat on Wednesday night in the Play-In Tournament. The win gave Philly the East's No. 7 seed, and the 76ers will face the Knicks in the first round starting on Saturday. The Heat, meanwhile, will face the Chicago Bulls for the No. 8 seed on Friday night.

The 76ers got 23 points from Joel Embiid, who did not look like his usual self for most of the game and ended 6 for 17 from the floor. Embiid hit a big 3-pointer late and also assisted Kelly Oubre Jr. on a layup that gave the Sixers the lead with 36 seconds left. The offensive star of the night for the 76ers was Nic Batum, as the veteran had 20 points off the bench, hitting six 3-pointers and sparking a second-half run.

The 76ers were down by 12 points at halftime, but they hit nine 3-pointers in the final 24 minutes and cut down turnovers to secure their spot in the playoff bracket. The Heat got 25 points from Tyler Herro, who took a game-high 27 shots. Jimmy Butler added 19 points, five assists and five steals, but looked hobbled throughout the game after injuring his knee late in the first quarter.

The Heat also lost the No. 7-8 Play-In Tournament game last season before winning the No. 8 seed and going on a run to the Eastern Conference Finals. If the Heat claim the No. 8 seed again this year, they'll face the 64-win Celtics in the first round.

Here are three takeaways from Wednesday night's game.

The Nico Show

In a game that featured two of the Eastern Conference's biggest names in Embiid and Butler, of course it was the 35-year-old Batum who wound up being the game-changer. After struggling to score against the Heat's zone defense in the first half, Batum -- who admitted after the game that he may have been looking for Embiid a bit too much early -- decided to let it fly.

The 20 points and six 3-pointers were both season-highs for the 16-year NBA vet, who picked the opportune time to catch fire when his team had nothing going offensively. The last time Batum had at least 20 points in a playoff game was 2016, and the eight-year gap between 20-point games is the fifth-largest in NBA history.

With so much attention on Embiid and Tyrese Maxey, the Sixers' supporting cast is going to have to show up on a regular basis if they're going to beat the Knicks in the first round. On Wednesday it was Batum, but it can be Kelly Oubre Jr., Buddy Hield, Tobias Harris, Kyle Lowry or anyone else stepping up. If the stars are left on an island, it's going to be a difficult series.

Banged-up Butler

Butler was already living up to his "Playoff Jimmy" nickname early on Wednesday night, but that came to an abrupt halt when he suffered an apparent knee injury late in the first quarter.

In the final three quarters, Butler went just 3 for 14 from the field, and he ceded a lot of the fourth-quarter playmaking to Herro. The injury and its potential aftereffects are clearly a major concern for Miami, who will be playing for the No. 8 seed on Friday night. For an offense that finished 21st in the NBA this season, Butler's absence would mean a much larger workload for Herro and Bam Adebayo.

Butler is expected to get an MRI on Thursday.

"It had me feeling that I couldn't do too much," he said after Wednesday's game.

Board battle

Looking ahead to the 76ers' matchup with the Knicks, things might come down to a seemingly menial task -- rebounding. Philadelphia finished the regular season as the fifth-worst defensive rebounding team in the NBA, while the Knicks led the league in offensive boards. The recipe could spell disaster for the 76ers, just as it did for the Cleveland Cavaliers last season when the Knicks beat them up on the glass en route to a first-round series win.

Offensive rebounds lead to second-chance opportunities which, not surprisingly, were another strong suit of the Knicks this season. Players like Isaiah Hartenstein, Josh Hart and Mitchell Robinson terrorize the offensive boards, allowing them to kick out to shooters like Jalen Brunson and Donte DiVincenzo.

Embiid did not look to be 100% on Wednesday, and he was visibly fatigued toward the end of the game. He can't be expected to do all the rebounding work in the upcoming series, and his supporting cast will need to be vigilant when it comes to boxing out the Knicks' ball-hawks.

76ers vs. Heat score: What we learned as Nic Batum steps up to lead Philly to No. 7 seed, date with Knicks (2024)
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