Sixers beat the Heat, secure playoff spot to face the Knicks

Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid, left, shoots over Miami Heat’s Kevin Love during the first half of an NBA basketball play-in tournament game Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)

The Philadelphia 76ers took to their home court Wednesday evening for their first taste of the NBA’s Play-In Tournament in franchise history. As the seventh seed coming into the night, the Sixers hosted the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the Miami Heat.

With the chance to secure that seventh spot and earn the right to face the New York Knicks in the first round of the NBA playoffs, Philadelphia took the court to a packed house, looking to put the Play-In behind them.

A strong start in the first quarter had the Philly-phaithful feeling quite confident in their home squad. However, the Miami Heat are known for their heavy-hitting counter punch, which often comes in the form of their zone defense.

The Sixers looked listless and lost, throwing the ball to and fro as if they were enjoying a relaxing afternoon of catch. After a solid start on both ends, Philadelphia’s squad showed no direction, urgency, or confidence.

As the second quarter came and went, Philadelphia saw Miami’s lead grow larger and larger as they struggled to establish themselves on either end of the court. That would all change after one fateful moment.

The unlikeliest of heroes

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Miami Heat’s Caleb Martin (16) tries to get past Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Wednesday, Feb. 14, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Not everyone can become a great hero, but a great hero can come from anywhere. That is exactly what unfolded in Philadelphia as an arena suffering from a downpour of well-deserved boos changed its tone as Miami Heat forward Caleb Martin missed two second-half free throws, granting fans in the Philadelphia area free Chick-fil-A chicken the following morning.

The moment that second free throw missed the bottom of the net, cheers rang down from the home crowd. It’s often seen how a team’s performance can energize the crowd, but in this case, it was the crowd who energized the players, sparking a ferocious run that brought the team back within five as the third quarter ended.

Finishing the job

Philadelphia 76ers’ Nicolas Batum (40) and Mo Bamba right, battle for the rebound with Miami Heat’s Bam Adebayo, center, during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, March 18, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

As the fourth quarter began, the momentum fell into Philadelphia’s favor, but the Sixers were not out of the woods yet. The Miami Heat are among the most mentally tenacious teams in the league, proving so time and time again.

On the back of Joel Embiid and Nico Batum, Philadelphia not only continued to hold tough but gained ground on the Heat. It’s difficult to find the words to truly express the fourth-quarter comeback that the Sixers enjoyed, but it was by far the most impressive game the Sixers have played in quite a long time.

Mental toughness is a concept that many have criticized the Sixers for regarding an alleged lack. Philadelphia certainly proved themselves in this matchup however, displaying immense fortitude in crucial moments.

A popular phrase this season is that this year feels like “the year” for Philadelphia. While it’s too early to say that much, the team will need to continue to

Up next for the Sixers

New York Knicks’ Jalen Brunson, left, gets past Philadelphia 76ers’ Joel Embiid during the first half of an NBA basketball game, Friday, Jan. 5, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The Sixers, having now secured their place in the NBA playoffs, will travel to New York to face off against the Knicks on Saturday night.