Ben Simmons had 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds in his playoffs debut, and the Philadelphia 76ers romped again without Joel Embiid, beating the Miami Heat 130-103 on Saturday night for their 17th straight win.
Embiid was a spectator in Game 1 of the first-round series because of a broken orbital bone around his left eye. The All-Star center has been hopeful he can return early in the series. The Sixers could end this one early with Embiid back in the lineup.
Simmons dished and dazzled in the paint and the Heat had no answer for Sixers reserves Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova. Belinelli and Ilyasova 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 coach Brett Brown to get the rout rolling.
Brown won 47 games his first three seasons as the Sixers underwent The Process – and 52, plus Game 1 this season.
JJ Redick 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 tip-off.
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 tip-off 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 playoffs 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!!! #Playoffs #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.
Simmons assisted on Ilyasova’s three 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 three 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 Wells Fargo Center once Saric buried a three in the fourth for a 109-87 lead.
Heat: G Goran Dragic was back in the starting lineup after missing the season finale with a sore knee … Embiid’s bell ringing made him more of a factor in the game than Hassan Whiteside. Whiteside had just two points and he didn’t seem pleased at one point with coach Erik Spoelstra.
76ers: NBA commissioner Adam Silver was at the game … Hall of Famer Allen Iverson received a roaring standing ovation and former Eagles star running back LeSean McCoy was at the game.
Game 2 is Monday in Philadelphia.