PHILADELPHIA — Some Sixers fans may not want to say it.
They think it might be too much too soon for Philadelphia.
But with each game, the Sixers look more and more like a team capable of reaching the NBA Finals.
The Sixers dominated the second half and beat the Miami Heat 130-103 in Game 1 of their best-of-seven first-round series before 20,617 fans at the Wells Fargo Center on Saturday night. Game 2 is at 8 p.m. Monday on the same court.
Philadelphia outscored the Heat 74-43 in the second half. The Sixers have won 17 straight games, counting 16 to end the regular season.
“As a basketball player, you dream about those moments,” said Sixers guard J.J. Redick, who scored a game-high 28 points. “You’re in the second half of a playoff game. Your team is making a run. You’re getting stops. You’re hitting 3s. The crowd is energizing you and pushing you. It was awesome.”
Plenty of Sixers made their playoff debuts, and plenty delivered standout performances.
Rookie point guard Ben Simmons finished one rebound from a triple-double with 17 points, 14 assists and nine rebounds. Power forward Dario Saric sank 4 of 6 3-pointers.
Marco Belinelli came off the bench to sink 4 of 7 3-pointers. Backup center Ersan Ilyasova scored 17 points and grabbed 14 rebounds.
“They played really, really fast,” Heat backup center Kelly Olnyk said. “They just got those shooters coming off staging screens nonstop, full speed. It’s tough to guard.”
The Sixers finished 18 for 28 from 3-point range. They had 34 assists. And the Sixers are still without center Joel Embiid, who is recovering from a fractured left eye orbital.
“Passing the ball, sharing the ball, playing downhill,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said. “It’s always about concepts and spacing and unselfish players. We had 34 assists. That’s a massive number in the playoffs. We share the ball, the guys like playing with each other.”
Anticipation couldn’t have been greater for Saturday’s game as the Sixers were making their first playoff appearance in six years. The fans began chanting “Trust the Process” during the warmups.
Embiid did not play, but he fired up the crowd before the opening tip by ringing the symbolic Liberty Bell while wearing a “Phantom of the Opera” mask.
There were several questions before the game about how the Sixers would handle the postseason. It didn’t take Philadelphia long to experience playoff adversity.
Miami played physical defense in the first two quarters, harassing the Sixers’ 3-point shooters all over the court.
The Sixers trailed by as many as 12 in the first quarter. Redick barely went anywhere in the first half without a Heat defender having a hand on him.
Both the Sixers and Heat looked like different teams in the second half.
“Something clicked for us defensively,” Redick said. “It was the stretch at the start of third where we were getting stops and making shots. We tied it, and then all of a sudden we looked up, and we were up 11.”
Actually, that dominant stretch, a 23-3 run, turned a seven-point deficit with 11 minutes, 1 second left in the third quarter into a 13-point lead with 4:30 left in the period.
The Heat went 6:51 seconds without a field goal in the third quarter. Sixers forward Robert Covington (three blocked shots) sparked the defense.
“It just tumbled at the beginning of the third quarter,” Heat coach Eric Spoelstra said. “It was a combination of a little bit of everything. We struggled to get coherent offense. That in turn got them out in the open court. Simmons created, and the 3s starting going from there. We just couldn’t keep it to within striking distance.”
The NBA playoffs are about adjustments.
“They don’t get three wins for this,” Spoelstra said.
Redick expects to see a different Heat team Monday night.
“We have to be ready,” he said. “We have to figure out what they’re going to do differently and then anticipate that. You don’t get extra points for winning by 27.”
But you do enhance your credibility as an NBA contender.
The Sixers are not just another young, talented team that needs to experience some painful playoff learning lessons before challenging for a championship.
Simmons is the reason why, and it has only partially to do with the nightly triple-doubles he seems to always produce. It’s his demeanor. Nothing that happens on the court rattles him.
Reporters asked him late Saturday night what he thought of his playoff debut.
“I’m ready,” he said, “to play the next game.”