It felt inevitable.
Not “The Process” from the start. There were some severe downs before the ups.
Not this first playoff series against Miami from the start, because it felt even… until Game 3 when Joel Embiid returned in his mask and tipped the scales.
No, it was Game 5’s result felt inevitable as it unfolded. Not because Philadelphia won the previous game in Miami and could close it out at home. Not because the Sixers have the two biggest talents in the series in Ben Simmons and Embiid.
Rather, Game 5 felt inevitable because the Sixers got better looks all night long. They got them with ball movement, with player movement that created mismatches or clean jumpers. It was tied 46-46 at the half because Philadelphia just missing its good looks while the Heat were struggling with hands in their face all night. Philadelphia shot 38.1 percent in the first half overall and were 2-of-12 from three.
In the third quarter, it all changed.
Philadelphia went on an early 9-0 run, shot 50 percent as a team for the quarter, all while continuing to play defense and get stops. The Sixers won the third 34-20 and held on through Miami rallies in the fourth to take the game comfortably, 104-91.
With the win, Philadelphia wins the series 4-1 and advances to the second round, where they will face either Boston or Milwaukee (Boston leads the series 3-2).
They did it behind 27 from J.J. Redick, who knocked down five threes. Embiid had 19 points and 12 rebounds, Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, and six assists. However, it was the defense that held the Miami to 38.6 percent shooting overall and 16-of-31 from three within eight feet of the basket that won the game for Philly.
This young Sixers team learned lessons in this first round, and maybe the biggest was how to adapt the physicality of the playoffs, and keeping your cool while things don’t go your way.
“I thought we withstood the physicality of the Heat,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “They’re a great organization. They came to mean it, we knew they wouldn’t go away easily, and we had to have that physical element to match.”
They matched that physicality, but what they had was talent that could step up.
They also savored the moment. Midway through the fourth, up comfortably and still knocking down shots, the young Sixers were reveling in the deafening crowd in the Wells Fargo Center. Philadelphia was reveling in success after years of struggling through the process — the players and fans wanted to start that party midway through the fourth.
However, Heat have no chill and no quit in them, they went on a 10-0 in the fourth quarter, not-so-coincidentally after Sixers fans started chanting, “We want Boston!”
But when it mattered the Heat couldn’t get stops — the Sixers talent showed through. Redick hit threes. Embiid owned the paint. Simmons did a little bit of everything.
It was a moment of revelry in Philadelphia. One years in the making — and maybe the first in many years of future celebrations on that court.