The Sixers weren’t supposed to happen this fast, or at least make it look this easy. Here we are. After drubbing the Heat 104—91 on the strength of an overwhelming third-quarter run, Philly is off to the second round and waiting on its opponent to show up. The extended Philadelphia sports renaissance rolls onward, the process processes, and there’s no way you heard about Meek Mill being free, right?
Given how hot the Sixers had been burning on their way to the playoffs, a gentleman’s sweep didn’t seem out of the question. Nothing about that idea was totally absurd until it unfolded. Miami was supposed to be a passable foil, with experienced, gritty players and a penchant for making opponents uncomfortable when things start to matter. This series had the big Dwyane Wade game, James Johnson barking at Ben Simmons, Goran Dragic occasionally running unchecked—a familiar script.
It became rapidly apparent as soon as Joel Embiid returned, mask and all, that Philly’s margin for playoff error runs far wider than anyone could have imagined six months ago. The talent level, shot-making and defensive cohesion has been more than enough. Simmons-as-21-year-old postseason triple-double machine was someone’s acid trip until it wasn’t. They passed the first test with flying colors, an outwardly mishmash group of veterans surrounding two young stars, a mix that’s spawned an on-court product unselfish and skilled enough that it works.
The most impressive macro factor throughout is that Philly was never out-worked or out-toughed. They’re a new team, but not entirely a young team. That’s a pivotal difference as the going inevitably gets tougher. Couching mistakes with J.J. Redick in the corner or Marco Belinelli from the wing is a luxury for any team, not just one that’s leaning on elite-but-inexperienced talent. All in all, the winning-a-series thing is a fitting end to what was a constant, unforgiving recalibration of expectations. It spanned front-office regimes, starry prospects and many, many drafts. And now, it’s definitely over.
Without leaping too far ahead of ourselves, elsewhere along the Eastern seaboard Tuesday night, the Celtics and Bucks continued on what has been a sloppy game of punch-out. Whoever survives on the other side, the Sixers are slated for a week of rest and preparation that should prove valuable. For whatever it’s worth, no team in the Eastern Conference has offered a more convincing opening statement.