The Philadelphia 76ers won their first playoff series since 2012 on Tuesday evening with a 104-91 win over the Miami Heat.
The first foray into playoff action was a positive one for the Sixers’ young core. Ben Simmons notched the first playoff triple double by a rookie since Magic Johnson in 1980 (which actually came against the Sixers in the deciding Game 6 of the NBA Finals). In the series, he nearly averaged a triple double, with 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, and 9 assists. Joel Embiid, who didn’t play until Game 3 because of a broken orbital bone, wasn’t very efficient on offense but terrorized the Heat with his defense.
Overall, it was an incredibly physical and challenging series for the young Sixers. Miami is a tough and experienced team. Their strategy to slow the game down and play very active and high pressure defense against the Sixers was probably the correct approach. Against a young team, Miami expected the young Sixers to wilt against noticeably higher pressure. But they never really did, aside from Game 2.
Not only did the physicality fail to bring the Sixers down, it made some of their players thrive.
“I love it,” Ben Simmons said after Game 2. “I love when guys are trying to throw elbows or whatever it is. Being from Australia, I played Australian football, so I’m used to it. Makes me play better.”
The Sixers did indeed play better. In fact, they managed to overcome some of their worst habits. During large parts of the regular season, the Sixers were plagued by turnovers (16.5 per game, most in the league) and fourth quarter meltdowns. But in this series, they kept those things in control. Here are their turnovers for each game:
Game 1: 10
Game 2: 14
Game 3: 10
Game 4: 26
Game 5: 15
Four of the five games were below their season average. Even in that fourth game, the Sixers never let the Heat get ahead by more than 10 points or so. And in the fourth quarter, they outscored Miami 27-19. It’s not good that the Sixers turned it over so much, but to see them keep their heads up and still manage to win is pretty remarkable.
They outscored the Heat in every fourth quarter, a far cry from their frequently blown leads in the regular season. Brett Brown said after the clinching victory on Tuesday that the Sixers didn’t blink. That was true of their performance on the court, as well as the team’s vision since he took over in 2013.
"Through rough times, through adversity for sure, we didn't blink."
They’re special…Ultimately, sometimes the playoffs becomes too big for certain guys, or some guys don’t know how to match the intensity of the playoffs, or whatever the case may be. They play that way already. They already play to that intense level. They have an edge to them, and I think this series has given everybody a little more edge as well because of the physicality of the series.”
In the next round, the Sixers will face the winner of the Celtics/Bucks first round series. Boston leads the series 3-2, and Game 6 is on Thursday night. The Sixers had a 1-3 record against Boston in the regular season (although Kyrie Irving did not play in that single Sixers’ victory, and he is out for the postseason with a knee injury) and 2-2 against Milwaukee. Boston would have home court as the higher seed.