The 76ers are Eastern Conference semifinals-bound.
They punched their tickets there for the first time since 2012 with a 104-91 win over the Miami Heat in Game 5 of their conference quarterfinals on Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center.
Winning a playoff series 4-1 is a major leap for a franchise that finished 10-72 two seasons ago. It was the third season of a 3 1/2-year tank.
“Through rough times, through adversity for sure, we didn’t blink,” Brett Brown said of the rebuilding process.
The Sixers await the winner of the Boston-Milwaukee series, which the Celtics lead 3-2. Game 6 will be Thursday night in Milwaukee. The conference semifinal round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin next Monday or Tuesday.
“We got more to do,” said Brown, who’s in his fifth season as head coach. “We got more to give.”
They will hope to show the grit and balance they displayed in this series.
JJ Redick finished with a game-high 27 points with 5 of 10 shooting on three-pointers. Joel Embiid had 19 points, a game-high 12 rebounds, two steals and one block in his first playoff game in front of his home crowd. The all-star center had missed 10 straight games with a fractured orbital bone near his left eye before returning Thursday night for Game 3 in Miami.
Meanwhile, Ben Simmons had 14 points, 10 rebounds, six assists, two steals and one block.
“This is the future of the NBA,” said Heat guard Dwyane Wade, “and the future is in good hands with Ben and Joel.”
The atmosphere inside the arena was hyped hours before the game started. That’s when word circulated that rapper Meek Mill was going to be released from prison and ring the ceremonial bell before the game.
Mill was among a handful of celebrities in attendance to support the Sixers. Some of the other were Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, boxing great Bernard Hopkins, actor Kevin Hart, rapper Lil Dicky, Eagles running back Corey Clement, and Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf.
They were among the 21,171 who enjoyed the moment as the Sixers capped the series, four games to one. They also witnessed the Heat’s rough style of play.
The Sixers had a commanding 18-point lead on Embiid’s finger-roll layup with 1 minute, 34 seconds left in the third quarter.
However, the Heat pulled within eight points (87-79) thanks to a 10-0 run that was capped by Wade’s basket with 5:58 remaining.
But Miami’s rough play backfired, halting its momentum.
James Johnson received a technical foul for fouling and shoving Marco Belinelli out of bounds with 5:24 left. Redick made the technical foul before Belinelli made two foul shots to give the Sixers a 90-79 advantage.
Then after Johnson scored on the ensuing possession, Tyler Johnson picked up his sixth foul while hacking Belinelli. The reserve guard split his free throws to make it a 91-81 game with 4:53 remaining.
It didn’t take long after the opening tip for the Heat to display their trademark physicality.
Simmons drove in the lane 1 minute, 31 seconds into the game for a layup attempt. He appeared to turn the corner on Johnson. But that’s when Josh Richardson did his best free-safety impersonation. Richardson went low at the Sixers point guard, taking out his legs. Simmons flipped in the air and landed on his back. The rookie popped up and walked to the other end of the court and back. Then he went to the foul line and made a pair of free throws to give the Sixers an 8-3 lead.
Then with 1:03 left in the quarter, Kelly Olynyk hit Embiid, who is wearing a protective mask due to a fractured orbital bone, in the face. The center, who was trying to grab a defensive rebound on the play, was knocked to the floor. He made one of two free throws to knot the score at 21. Fourteen seconds later, Heat reserve guard Wayne Ellington ran over Redick for an offensive foul.
The Sixers went on to lead 23-21 after one quarter despite shooting just 7-for-22 overall and 1-for-5 on threes.
The Heat came back to take a four-point cushion (40-36) — their largest of the first half — on Hassan Whiteside’s dunk 3:45 before intermission. The Sixers responded with a 10-4 run to take a 46-44 lead with 37 seconds left in the half.
But Dragic’s 17-foot step-back jumper tied the score for the 11th time as the teams went into the locker room tied at 46.
The Sixers went on to take a 13-point victory despite making just 7 of 28 three-pointers.
“Two years ago, we won 10 games,” said Embiid, whose career has been hampered by injuries. “To get in this position, I’m just excited. Playing through adversity and everything that’s happened to me, I’m just blessed.”