By Lewis Gould
So much for playoff jitters for the young and hungry Sixers.
Just call them the Shock and Awe Sixers!
Ben Simmons (above) had 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds and the Sixers rolled to a 130-103 victory on last night for their 17th straight win — in game 1 of the Eastern Conference series with the Miami Heat.
”I feel this group has something special in it,” coach Brett Brown said.
Led by four each from JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli, the 76ers hit a team playoff-record 18 3-pointers (on 28 attempts).
The Sixers have stormed through the NBA since mid-March and the Heat were just another victim in a winning streak that includes nine straight without Joel Embiid.
He was a spectator because of a broken orbital bone around his left eye and has remained hopeful from the outset he can return early in the series.
Simmons helped compensate for his absence and dished and dazzled in the paint.
The Heat also had no answer for Sixers super subs Ersan Ilyasova and Belinelli; the duo combined to hit four 3-pointers in the third quarter that helped shift the tone from physical and foul-filled to a long-distance game that allowed the Sixers to put away this one. They used a 15-0 run in the third in their first postseason game in five seasons under Brown to get the rout rolling.
Brown, who won championships as an assistant in San Antonio, won 47 games his first three seasons as the Sixers underwent the Process – and 52, plus Game 1 this season.
”The NBA playoffs is the greatest professor you’ve ever had,” he said.
Redick, who said he briefly lost vision in his left eye following a hard fall early in the game, scored 28 points to lead the Sixers, who host Game 2 on Monday. Belinelli had 25 and Ilyasova 17.
Embiid ditched the black mask he’s been wearing in light shooting drills for a white ”Phantom of the Opera” mask to ring the ceremonial Liberty Bell before tipoff.
The Sixers crowd roared as Embiid, the self-proclaimed ”Phantom of the Process,” waved his arms toward the crowd and exhorted them to get louder. Sixers fans started tailgating in the sports complex about seven hours before tipoff and one group posted a sign on their tent that read ”Saturdays Are For The Process.” The Sixers had a blue-out and gave away free T-shirts in preparation of their first playoff game since 2012.
”There is a gratitude that I have, we have. Finally, here we are and our fans genuinely have something to be proud of with us,” Brown said.
The Game 1 victory sure didn’t surprise Embiid.
He had already mapped out the 76ers’ road to an NBA championship on his Instagram feed.
”It’s about that time!!! (hash)Playoffs (hash)PhantomofTheProcess
Embiid posted a photo burst of teams in order of a potential road toward a Process title. He started with the Heat, followed by Boston, then a picture of him hugging Cleveland’s LeBron James, and ending with Embiid looking at Golden State’s Draymond Green.
The Heat would swipe left on the collage.
For a half, the Heat got what they needed against one of the NBA’s toughest teams and James Johnson and Kelly Olynyk helped them take a 60-56 lead at the break. Olynyk led the Heat with 26 points.
The Sixers, who set an NBA record with 16 straight wins to end the season, got the rout in full swing with a raucous crowd behind them. The Heat shot 26 percent in the third and were outscored 34-18.
”We all felt good going into the second half and they kind of unleashed a fury of tough shots,” Olynyk said.
Simmons assisted on Ilyasova’s 3 and then hit a jumper for a 66-63 lead. Dario Saric, who the Sixers waited for two years to come over while he played overseas, also buried a 3 off an assist from Simmons. Simmons made a statue out of Olynyk, crossing him up and busting through for a two-handed slam that brought down the house.
All that was left was the ”Trust the Process!” chants and they rang out inside the Wells Fargo Center once Saric buried a 3 in the fourth for a 109-87 lead.
”The atmosphere was amazing,” Simmons said.
So were the Sixers.