A year after missing the postseason by 13 games and two years after finishing 10-72, the Philadelphia 76ers are headed to the second round of the NBA playoffs.
The Sixers defeated the Heat 104-91 Tuesday night in Game 5 of the teams’ first-round series, clinching a berth in the next round. Joel Embiid, centerpiece of The Process, put up 19 points and 12 rebounds. Rookie sensation Ben Simmons posted 14 points, 10 rebounds and 6 assists. J.J. Redick, the free agent acquisition whose arrival indicated that the Sixers were serious about contending, led all scorers with 27 points. A night that began with a celebration of Meek Mill’s release from prison culminated in a celebration of how far the Sixers’ franchise has come in an extremely short time.
SIXERS WIN! pic.twitter.com/RFbfeYlq1X
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 25, 2018
With Tuesday’s victory, the Sixers’ season has officially exceeded even the most optimistic expectations. Considered a fringe playoff contender at best entering the season, Philly went 52-30 in the regular season, good for the third best record in the East. Meanwhile, Simmons emerged as the Rookie of the Year favorite and a future All-Star, while Embiid remained healthy until a freak facial injury late in the season and Brett Brown showed he could coach a talented team, not just a rebuilding one. Then the Sixers avoided a playoff letdown in dispatching the Heat four games to one, as all their pieces clicked at the perfect time.
The coolest part for Philly fans might be that their team’s run could easily continue beyond the second-round. Next, the Sixers will face either the No. 7-seed Bucks or the heavily depleted Celtics, who lead their series 3-2 after a victory Tuesday night. Simmons, Embiid and company will likely enter a matchup with either team as the favorite to reach the conference finals and a serious threat to go even further than that.
But we’re probably getting ahead of ourselves. On Tuesday night, the Sixers and their supporters don’t need to look to the next round. They can simply bask in a 24-win improvement, the rapid development of two young superstars and an impressive climb from league laughingstock to playoff series victor.