The playoffs aren’t like the regular season. The pace slows down. Halfcourt sets are more likely. The 76ers are young and inexperienced for the most part.
All of those warning signals were floated before the Sixers began their seven-game series against the Miami Heat Saturday night.
The Sixers answered every question with a resounding response.
It wasn’t close after halftime and the Sixers won 130-103. The third-seeded Sixers will look to go up 2-0 in the series Monday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Their 16-game winning streak in the regular season was hardly a fluke because they sliced and diced the Heat up in every way imaginable. And Joel Embiid was unavailable. Think about that for a minute. The Sixers won by 27 without their 7-foot-2 center, their franchise cornerstone. They'll have to do it again as the big man was ruled out for Game 2 as well.
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This team seems to be for real.
“I think just the progressive growth of belief,” Sixers coach Brett Brown told reporters about the surge after halftime. “It is easier to cultivate that when you’re winning. Now I think we are 26-1 at home since Christmas, we’ve won a lot of games in a row, it sort of all adds up. We’ve talked a lot about how do we come out of halftime. Lots of times in the normal regular season it’s not uncommon for both teams to need to have the dust shaken off of them to respond and start playing competitive basketball again.”
The Sixers outscored the Heat, 74-43, in the second half. They dominated in every single facet, too.
Their 74 second half points are the most in a playoff half since scoring 81 on June 6, 1982 against the Los Angeles Lakers.
In ’82, the Sixers featured players such as Julius Erving, Bobby Jones, Maurice Cheeks and Andrew Toney.
Rookie Ben Simmons took over at times in this first playoff game with 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Simmons’ 14 assists are the most by a rookie in a playoff game since Spud Webb had 18 on April 19, 1986.
Simmons is mature beyond his years.
“I think for me just being more aggressive, attacking the rim,” Simmons told reporters. “Obviously tonight, knocking down free throws when I get the opportunity and just moving the ball. Play the way I play. I don't need to take all the shots. I've got guys who can hit shots. So as long as I'm getting them open and good shots we're fine.”
JJ Redick scored 28 huge points for the Sixers and heard the deafening roar from the sellout crowd with every made basket.
What was the atmosphere like?
“Goosebumps. The crowd gave me goosebumps,” Redick said. “It's one game and it's 1-0 in the series, but I'll just say this, as a basketball player you dream about those moments where you're in the second half of a playoff game and your team is making a run and you're making stops and you're hitting threes and the crowd is just energizing you and pushing you. It was awesome. They've been like that the whole year and I've talked about it and Brett has talked about it. What's it going to be like in the playoffs? They brought it. No surprise.”
At one stretch, the Sixers were 14-18. They pushed their way to 36-30 and then won 16 in a row for a 52-win regular season.
After one win in the postseason, who knows how far this team can advance? Just enjoy the ride.