After a six-year hiatus, the Philadelphia 76ers were finally back at Wells Fargo Center for some playoff basketball. It’s been a long, hectic, and sometimes even tumultuous road back to glory, but the time has finally come. Traveling to a hostile road arena to take on a No.3 seed riding a 16 game winning streak was perceived as a tough task for the Goran Dragic-led Miami Heat, and on Saturday night the Sixers proved exactly why.
The Sixers decimated Miami, to the tune of 130-103, and proved that they are more than formidable without their superstar center Joel Embiid. It was a complete team effort- fans and front office included- and really set the bar high for what this team can accomplish. I was blown away by the energy and hustle this team played with from the first buzzer to the last, and can’t wait to see what they have in store for game two. Before we turn our attention to future contests, however, let’s highlight what lead to the team’s dominant game one victory over the Heat.
Three Point Barrage
To say the Sixers had the green light from Brett Brown would be a severe understatement, at best. They were on the money all night from beyond the arc and there wasn’t a heat check in the world with enough range to slow them down- just ask Marco Belinelli:
Although the final score would lead one to believe this game was a cakewalk for Philly, that isn’t necessarily the case. The team was actually down by four at the half, and Brett Brown should be commended for rallying his troops and composing a solid plan of attack for the second half. And by ‘solid’, I mean historical:
The @sixers 74 second-half points tonight were their most in a playoff game since posting 81 in the second half against the Lakers in June 6, 1982.
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) April 15, 2018
Philly put on an absolute clinic in the second half, as Brown called some really intricate play designs after the intermission. The use of screens and ball fakes to free up shooters was incredibly impressive, and the deciding factor between them being 1-0 and 0-1 right now. Brown may not win Coach of the Year this season, but he certainly helped his case last night.
Rookie of the Year
Brown may not be awarded with the accolade he deserves, but there’s little to no chance that Ben Simmons suffers the same fate. The rookie point forward was surgical in his approach to game one and was the floor general of the Sixers attack. Simmons exceptional court vision and crafty passing lead to some important baskets and really kept the offense flowing. He finished the game with a 14 assists(!) and added yet another impressive record to his already remarkable rookie resume:
Ben Simmons is the first rookie in NBA history with at least
in a playoff game.
— Josh Schrager (@Schragz) April 15, 2018
.@sixers G-F @BenSimmons25 14 assists are the most by a rookie in a playoff game since Spud Webb had 18 on April 19, 1986.
— Sixers Stats (@SixersStats) April 15, 2018
It would’ve been nice to see Simmons get that last, elusive rebound for his first career playoff triple-double, but something tells me we won’t be waiting long for that feat.
I alluded to it a bit earlier when I spoke of the three-point efficiency of the team, but Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli really stepped up big time off the bench. The duo combined for a whopping 42 points on 50% FG. The Heat simply had no answer for the foreign spark plugs, and the Sixers don’t win as comfortably as they did- if at all- without them.
Speaking of Belinelli and Ilyasova, Bryan Colangelo deserves a good deal of credit for picking them up midseason. Colangelo jumped at the opportunity to add the talented veterans once they were bought out, and the moves are already starting to pay dividends. He’s no Howie Roseman, but he earned a few brownie points last night.
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Pesky, Pesky Defense
Lead by Robert Covington, the Sixers defense was LOCKDOWN in the second half. After scoring 60 points in the first half, the Heat were held to just 42 points the rest of the way. The Sixers defenders harassed the Miami players as they forced one
turnover after the next. Philly finished the game with five blocks- RoCo accounting for three of them- and nine steals. It’s encouraging to see the defense prosper without DPOY candidate Joel Embiid, and the prospect of the rim-protecting big man returning to this defense should frighten teams.
Lastly, the fans impact on game one should not be overlooked. Wells Fargo Center was roaring all night as fans rallied around their beloved Sixers. They never allowed the Heat’s early success to silence them, and it was obvious that the Sixers were feeding off their energy:
Philly couldn’t have asked for a better start to the series, as they took game one of the series and extended their win streak to 17 games. They’ll need to maintain that energy level throughout the playoffs for continued success, but this was a performance they should be very proud of. Here. They. Come.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports