Kyle Lowry leads Philadelphia 76ers past Miami Heat

ByTim Bontemps ESPN logo
Tuesday, March 19, 2024

PHILADELPHIA -- Everyone in Wells Fargo Center Monday night saw Kyle Lowry -- the 18-year NBA veteran playing against his former team, the Miami Heat, for the first time since being traded away from the Heat two months ago -- go flying head-long over the scorer's table and into the stands.

Everyone, that is, except for his coach, Nick Nurse.

"I totally missed it," Nurse said with a laugh afterwards. "I just heard the crowd react, so I assumed it had to be good.

"I've seen him dive into the crowd ... you know he's playing if he's ending up in the crowd."

Lowry, though, had another explanation for it.

"When you get to a certain age," Lowry said with a smile, "you ain't got no brakes, so I couldn't stop myself."

Lowry's dive into the stands was just one of several highlight plays on the night for the soon-to-be 38-year-old guard, who finished with 16 points, 4 rebounds and an assist in 35 minutes as Philadelphia claimed a 98-91 victory over Miami in front of a sellout crowd here in South Philadelphia -- a win that, at least for one night, allowed the 76ers to leapfrog both the Heat and Indiana Pacers and move into sixth place in the very crowded Eastern Conference standings.

"No," Lowry said, when asked if he had extra juice for this game against his former team. "I think the juice was that we understood that was a big game for the standings. We needed that win for the standing purposes. I love and admire those guys so much, and I still root for them except for when I'm playing against them. But there was no added juice. Just go out there and try to win a game for our team because of the standings.

"It's going to be a tight race and we got to do what we can do and hold it down while we can, and then try to take advantage of the opportunities that we have and just win as many games as we possibly can."

For Philadelphia, which was led by 30 points, 8 rebounds and 10 assists from Tyrese Maxey, it was a vital win on a few levels. The Sixers -- already without Joel Embiid, who will hit the six-week mark in his recovery from meniscus surgery Tuesday -- were also missing Tobias Harris for a second straight game, and now will embark on a four-game West Coast swing to take on the Phoenix Suns, Los Angeles Lakers, LA Clippers and Sacramento Kings before returning home next Wednesday to play the Clippers in James Harden's return to Philadelphia for the first time since being traded in November.

But none of that was on anyone's mind in the fourth quarter of this chaotic affair, one that saw Miami enter it without Jimmy Butler (foot), Tyler Herro (foot), Kevin Love (heel) Nikola Jovic (hamstring) and Josh Richardson (shoulder) before also losing Duncan Robinson (back) during the game itself, and then come roaring back into things with a 20-6 run to open the fourth quarter and erase what had been a 14-point Philadelphia lead.

That, however, only set the stage for Lowry to make two of the biggest plays of the game: a 3-pointer with 3:09 remaining that made it a two-possession game -- and it never became a one-possession game again -- followed by a circus layup in traffic with 1:36 to go that gave Philadelphia a 95-89 lead and enough breathing room to hang on.

"Yeah, I mean it certainly helps a lot," Nurse, who coached Lowry for several seasons in Toronto, said when asked about the veteran guard's leadership. "I think he sees a lot and positions people a lot. But he's actually like making more plays than doing that. This is another game where he's hit a two huge shots with a couple minutes ... so he's making plays, along with his leadership and organization."

For Lowry and the 76ers, who are now 12-22 this season when Embiid doesn't play, compared to 26-8 when the league's reigning Most Valuable Player is in uniform, the goal now is to try to hang on until he's able to return. Nurse said before Monday's game that Embiid continues to work out, but there remains no timetable for his return.

After the game, when Lowry was asked what this group is missing at the moment, he didn't hesitate in his answer.

"A 7-foot-2 guy," he said with a laugh. "That'll help."

He then went on to say he's continued to think about the possibility of playing with Embiid, and that he's already come to appreciate how the superstar center sees the game.

"I haven't had the opportunity to play with Big Fella, and I'm looking forward to that," Lowry said. "I've seen it, of course, but in person it's a lot different. The one thing that I've learned so far, his basketball mind is very sharp. Very, very smart basketball player, smart individual. So we just got to be patient until he gets back."