PHILADELPHIA — The 76ers’ trade-deadline deal for James Harden was supposed to make them NBA title contenders, but it didn’t happen in his first postseason here.
Harden and the Sixers were eliminated by dropping a disappointing 99-90 decision to the Heat in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference semifinal playoffs Thursday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
The Heat advance to face the winner of the Celtics-Bucks series in the conference finals, while the Sixers’ season is over in the second round once again. The Sixers haven’t reached the Eastern finals since 2001.
The loss was the first by a home team in the series and prevented a deciding Game 7 on Sunday in Miami.
Second-year guard Tyrese Maxey was coming off of his worst performance of the 2022 playoffs.
Maxey, who had averaged 21 points in the first 10 postseason contests, shot just 2 for 10 with 9 points, 1 assist and 2 turnovers in 33 minutes during a 120-85 Game 5 thrashing in Miami. He was a non-factor, which is unusual. The Heat also seemed to take advantage of him at the defensive end.
“We got to get him going,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said during his pregame media availability. “We got to give him the ball early on the break. We got to get him up the floor more. Them attacking him, I don’t think bothered him. I think us not giving him the ball enough, in my opinion, probably had a bigger effect.”
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In Game 6, Maxey got his first basket on a breakaway dunk from James Harden 3½ minutes in and was more assertive and effective, scoring 10 points in the first half as the Sixers trailed by one heading into intermission. He finished with 20.
Star center Joel Embiid had 14 points at the half, during which he played all but 92 seconds, but shot just 5 for 14 and appeared to be favoring his injured right thumb. He ended up with 20 points on 7-for-24 shooting.
The first-half left leg injury to Danny Green meant more minutes for Matisse Thybulle, who continued to struggle at the offensive end and didn’t have one of his better defensive outings. Rivers turned to Shake Milton 2½ minutes into the second half when the Heat pulled ahead by six after trying Furkan Korkmaz, who didn’t get the job earlier, either.
The Sixers went cold to start the third quarter and had to try to overcome an 16-point deficit midway through the period after being outscored 19-4, which was a daunting task. Milton was the only Philly player who could score for a significant stretch and contributed seven points in the third quarter to keep the Sixers from a bigger deficit.
Harden didn’t score in the second half while taking just two shots after having 11 points on 4-for-7 shooting at the break.
With Embiid resting for the first time in the second half, the Heat scored the first six points of the fourth quarter to go in front by 17 as a healthy contingent of the the sellout crowed booed. On this night, the MVP finalist couldn’t make a difference.
Tom Moore: tmoore@couriertimes; @TomMoorePhilly