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No Joel Embiid, no problem. At least through one game of the 2018 NBA playoffs.
With their All-Star center watching from the bench in street clothes, the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers whipped the Miami Heat, 130-103, in Game 1 of their first-round playoff series at Wells Fargo Center.
The win is the 17th in a row for the 76ers, who played without Embiid, who is sidelined with a broken left orbital bone around his left eye, though he hopes he can return early in the series.
Rookie point guard Ben Simmons had 17 points, nine rebounds and 14 assists in his playoff debut for the 76ers. J.J. Redick, who said after the game be briefly lost vision in his left eye after taking a hard fall early in the game, scored 28 points.
— NBA (@NBA) April 15, 2018
Marco Belinelli (25 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists, 3 steals), Dario Saric (20 points, 6 rebounds, 3 assists) and Ersan Ilyasova (17 points, 14 boards) also hit double figures for Philadelphia.
In winning their first playoff game in six years, Philadelphia did so with the help of 18 made 3-pointers (on 28 attempts), a team playoff record.
Redick and Belinelli had four 3-pointers each for the 76ers.
“I feel this group has something special in it,” Philadelphia coach Brett Brown said.
— * – Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 15, 2018
“Give them credit,” Heat guard Dwyane Wade said. “They hit some stuff. And I’ve been around this game for a long time, and to see guys shoot like that, it’s pretty impressive. Obviously, we’ll come with some game-plan type of changes and stuff. But if they’re going to keep shooting the long ball like that, it doesn’t matter what game plan we put together.
“We’re just going to have to do it harder and we’re going to have to want it more to run them off the 3-point line.”
Kelly Olynyk led Miami with 26 points and seven rebounds off the bench, while Goran Dragic (15 points, 5 rebounds, 4 assists) and James Johnson (13 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists) hit double figures.
Miami actually led at halftime, 60-56, but came out flat for the second half and Philadelphia went on a 15-0 run outscored it, 34-18, in the third quarter as the Heat shot just 26 percent in the quarter.
“We all felt good going into the second half and they kind of unleashed a fury of tough shots,” Olynyk said.
Philadelphia, which has won nine straight while Embiid is sidelined, hopes to get its big man back soon. He ditched the black mask he has been wearing while going through light shooting drills for a white “Phantom of the Opera” mask while he rang the ceremonial Liberty Bell before the game tipped off.
The Phantom of the Process (A.K.A.: Joel Embiid) rang the pregame bell pic.twitter.com/fkCmPCkMCh
— Jessica Camerato (@JessicaCamerato) April 15, 2018
The self-proclaimed “Phantom of the Process” urged on the roaring crowd by waving his arms, exhorting the fans to get louder. Fans had been tailgating outside the arena more than seven hours before tipoff in anticipation of the Sixers’ first playoff game since 2012.
Brown, who won championships while he was an assistant coach in San Antonio, won 47 games combined in his first three seasons at the helm. This season, the 76ers won 52 games, earning the third seed in the Eastern Conference.
“The NBA playoffs is the greatest professor you’ve ever had,” he said. “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.”
Philadelphia hosts Game 2 on Monday night, with Game 3 set for Thursday night in Miami.
Embiid is hopeful of being able to make his playoff debut sooner than later.
“If it was my decision, I would play, but I can’t get back out on the court if I don’t have the OK from them,” he told ESPN. “But everything has been going well. I’ve been able to do everything. And I feel great. So we got a pretty good chance for Game 2 or Game 3. We gonna see how it feels in the next couple of days.
“I got to do some contact stuff and see how it feels, and then they are going to allow me to be back. I did a little bit today, kind of like dummy defense — not really contact but, like, a body on me.”
Meanwhile, Heat center Hassan Whiteside had only two points, six rebounds and two blocked shots, playing on 12:26 as coach Erik Spoelstra turned to Olynyk.
“I think Coach wanted some change,” Whiteside said. “K.O. was playing well. Of course, I would love to be out there rebounding and blocking shots and be out there with my teammates. But I think K.O. was playing well so Coach just wanted to get him out there.
“He just wanted to change it up. I trust Coach. I trust his decision-making.”
Spoelstra said Whiteside’s limited minutes were the result of matchups.
“It’s not about him,” he said. “The whole second half, this series and this game, it’s going to change quickly. There’s a lot of subs both ways.
“There’s not a lot of time based on the flow or the matchups. It’s not necessarily an indictment to his first four minutes [of the second half]. But we all have to be collectively better on Monday.”
Miami has won on the road only twice since Jan. 29. The Heat have won at least one game on the road in 18 consecutive playoff series, an NBA record.