The Philadelphia 76ers hosted the Miami Heat in a play-in game with the Eastern Conference's seventh seed on the line. The Sixers shrunk under the aggressive, physical Heat and still came out on top 105-104.

Let’s break down the play-in game between the 76ers and the Heat.

76ers player notes:

Joel Embiid: 23 points, 15 rebounds, 5 assists, 6-17 FG shooting

The biggest player on the court was missing layups left and right in what was an atrocious showing. Yes, there’s the recovering left knee that was probably bothering Embiid to some extent. But even with acknowledging that, his performance was a massive disappointment until the fourth quarter, where he was a major scoring threat. Right before it was too late, he made it a game by asserting himself and keeping a level head.

Tyrese Maxey: 19 points, 3 rebounds, 6 assists, 6-16 FG shooting

Maxey far too often committed the cardinal sin of failing to let his shot fly when he got open. He shook off his indecisiveness in the second half but by then, he was so out of rhythm that it was hard for him to punish the Heat defense consistently.

Nico Batum: 20 points, 5 rebounds, 0 assists, 7-12 FG shooting

THAT is why he's in in the fourth quarter. Batum shot the lights out from deep, saving the Sixers on a night where their stars were quite bad. It wasn’t the typical Batum masterclass full of hustle plays, heads-up thinking and only a few shots. This was a demonstration in buckets. He hit a season-high in threes (six) at the perfect time.

Heat player notes:

Jimmy Butler: 19 points, 4 rebounds, 5 assists, 5 steals, 5-18 FG shooting

The Sixer star that got away came back to torment the franchise with a hard-nosed, in-your-face performance. Although he shot terribly from the field, he once again perfectly played the role of the red, white, yellow and black snake that has kept the East on its toes for years.

Game recap:

All the twists and turns of the regular season have led the 76ers and Heat here, to one game that will decide who gets into the playoffs and who gets put on the bubble to miss out. They split the season series but Philly came out victorious in the only game to feature Embiid and Butler. The loser would not be eliminated but would be nudged to the side of the bracket featuring the Boston Celtics. In Butler's first game in Philly all season, the tensions and stakes were sky-high.

The Heat were without Terry Rozier and Josh Richardson and the Sixers were without De'Anthony Melton and Robert Covington.

1st half

Butler matched up with Maxey while Lowry guarded Butler, giving his former teammate no space to operate off the dribble. Maxey collided with Butler on a transition play and appeared to be in great pain, asking Nick Nurse to call a timeout. He stayed in the game, showing no fear as he charged up the court a few plays later to squeak a layup past Butler.

The Sixers fought hard on the glass, trying to tip it back for extra possessions on offense and crashing just as hard on defense. They were also super active on defense with Lowry setting the tone. Embiid stuck a pair of fouls on Adebayo in the first six minutes in a gritty, low-scoring start, sending Kevin Love into the game. He did a lot of initiating on offense and, when Miami had to surrender an extra defender to contain him, didn’t look any more bothered.

However, Philly couldn’t hit enough of its shots. Butler recorded a pair of steals that led to wide-open layups to keep Miami close. Once Embiid subbed out, the Heat went to a full-court press/zone defense. Even with Embiid in, they played the defense they're famous for. Delon Wright and Haywood Highsmith were wrecking the Sixers' offense up top, forcing them deep into looks deep in the shot clock and making bad passes.

Butler took a hard fall after up-faking Oubre, immediately holding his right knee but staying in the game and hitting his free throws. In the opening of the second quarter, he drew another shooting foul on Embiid, giving him two fouls. The Heat defense generated turnovers and looked for fast-break chances. Embiid blew a few easy opportunities down low, bailing Miami out. Some boos from the home crowd came raining down as Philly failed to pull even.

More missed layups, including a Charles Smith-esque moment from Tobias Harris, cost the Sixers as the Heat continued stepping on their throats. Miami's defense was firing on a scary level, forcing misses and turnovers seemingly every other possession. Harris, of all people, finally got a putback layup to go and set up Paul Reed for another easy score. The deficit was only seven but it felt double that, if not triple.

Even when the Heat messed up, like when Herro drilled Adebayo in the head with a pass, they made it work, with Adebayo putting back an offensive rebound. Miami drilled transition threes as Philly threw weak, scared passes. With the Heat disrupting so many passes, the Sixers played offense like the defenders had 10-foot-long wingspans. That fear manifested itself into a brutal showing on offense in the first half.

At halftime, the 76ers trailed 51-39.

2nd half

When the second half began, the 76ers showed some heart and hustle. But it came on a near-wreckless closeout from Harris, who barreled through a screener for a foul. Then Harris showed no court awareness by stepping out of bounds on an open fast break. The sequence really turned the intensity of the crowd up, raising their anger for the team they hoped would eventually turn it around.

The Sixers looked to be drowning less as the half went on, stringing together a few buckets and getting some stops. The momentum needed to turn that into a trend. Batum hit a triple to make it an eight-point game. Hield scored a breakaway layup via a goaltending call, cutting it down to six. The play that sparked the run? Caleb Martin missing two free throws, which earned the crowd free Chick-fil-A and ignited life.

The Sixers flipped to a zone defense and hit some huge triples, threatening to take the lead. The Heat, surprisingly, abandoned the strategy that worked so well for them until Embiid rested with three minutes left in the quarter. It was a brief rest, though, and the Heat stayed in zone. Miami stayed ahead by a nose hair as the third quarter wound down and the Sixers sent Cam Payne in with the hopes of sparking more offense. He drilled a triple but the Heat led by five with 12 minutes to go.

Embiid, who helped the Sixers get going defensively by moving to Jamie Jaquez Jr. (who Philly was willing to let shoot), tied the game with a triple. He then assisted Batum on a go-ahead triple. The veteran went on to save a possession by side-stepping into his SIXTH triple of the game. Hield and Reed connected on a lob as Philly tried to hang on in the Embiid-less minutes.

Despite Embiid returning, offensive rebounding doomed the Sixers on multiple possessions. Batum — who else — flipped an offensive rebound over his head to stop some bleeding, making it a one-point game in the final minutes. Embiid hit a triple to put the Sixers by two but the flame was extinguished by Tyler Herro. An and-one putback floater from Embiid lit it again before Highsmith tied the game back up.

The 76ers regained the lead when Oubre posted up Butler and scored under the hoop off of a feed from Embiid. The old-fashioned three-point play gave Philly that much of a lead with 36 seconds left. Batum blocked a Herro three-point attempt and Maxey made two foul shots after a Miami foul. The chicanery was just getting started, though.

Philly struggled to inbound the ball up by three, taking a pair of timeouts. Finally getting it in led to Oubre, who attempted a shot right at the rim and got fouled. He hit his free throws but Jaquez, unable to go out quietly, hit a middie fadeaway. Maxey at the line led to two more points and Miami used its final timeout with 8.2 seconds left. Batum was whistled for an off-the-ball foul, giving Herro an extra free throw (he hit it). The Heat's last gasp came up empty.

Assorted observations:

  • Are the Sixers as a franchise cursed with the inability to execute against a zone defense no matter who the coaches and players are?
  • That second Martin miss from the Bricken for Chicken looked just as intentional as one could reasonably make it. His attempt wasn’t even close.

The 76ers are onto the first round against the New York Knicks. The series begins Saturday at Madison Square Garden.