Wearing street clothes and a Phantom of the Opera mask, Joel Embiid walked out to half-court Saturday night.
He rang the mini-version of the Liberty Bell to “open the postseason” for the Sixers.
And then Philadelphia kept doing what it’s done for over two weeks — dominate the opposition in spite of its All-Star center’s absence.
The Sixers made it 17 consecutive victories counting their 16 to end the regular season and nine in a row without Embiid as they buried the Heat in the second half of a 130-103 victory at the Wells Fargo Center.
“They were the same, they just played unbelievably well,” Goran Dragic said. “They were hitting some shots. They didn’t go away from their game. They were physical the whole game. The catch and go shooters were really hot and we just fell apart in the third and fourth quarters.”
Embiid, who may return for either Game 2 of this Eastern Conference quarterfinals series on Monday night or by Game 3 on Thursday in Miami, has not played since March 28th with an orbital bone fracture.
The Sixers started veteran 6-9 center Amir Johnson and opened the second half with 6-10 Ersan Ilyasova, but went to a faster lineup that routed the Heat 34-18 in the third quarter and 74-43 overall in the second half.
Philadelphia buried a staggering 18 three-pointers on 28 attempts, which set a new franchise playoff record.
Ilyasova (3 for 4), Dario Saric (4 for 6), JJ Redick (4 for 6) and Marco Bellinelli (4 for 7) did the majority of the damage.
“They were hitting really tough shots, but then there were others that seemed like they got in rhythm because they were wide open,” Tyler Johnson said. “I don’t think it was a lack of effort as much as it was attention to detail. But they just kicked our [butts]. There wasn’t a whole lot to it.
“They were running shooters on both sides and they have two knockdown shooters who come off opposite sides. They hit shots. But we didn’t do anything to stop it when they start hitting shots. They got into a rhythm early with some easy back cuts and us maybe trying to overplay. For a shooter when they see the ball go in, it’s tough to slow them down especially guys like that. They have a lot of playoff experience. They really led the charge.”
The Sixers’ second half point total and margin were their highest in a playoff game since June 6, 1982, against the L.A. Lakers in that year’s NBA Finals.
Playing fast is nothing new for the Sixers, who played at the fourth-fastest pace in the NBA during the regular season with 102.2 possessions per 48 minutes.
“They play really, really fast, a lot of stuff in transition,” said Heat center Kelly Olynyk, who finished with a team-high 26 points. “They just kept those shooters coming off staggered screens, nonstop, full speed, and it’s tough to guard when they got four shooters out there with Simmons handling the ball it’s tough to help and pack the paint, get in the paint. They’re coming off making tough shots, throwing the ball back, other guys are making shots, Simmons is attacking, they’re getting back cuts, trying to guard off screens. They play really fast, they execute really, really well.”
The Heat made 12 of 26 shots from three-point range, but three of its starters — Dragic, Hassan Whiteside (who played only 12 minutes and 26 seconds) and Josh Richardson — combined to shoot 6 for 25 from the field.
“We just have to go back and regroup,” Richardson said. “We don’t have to reinvent the wheel or anything. We have to study the film and figure out how to guard their runners and shooters better than we did. That’s where it starts.”