With another resounding win in Game 2 of their series with the Toronto Raptors, the Philadelphia 76ers have brought themselves one step closer to another 2nd round playoff series. It’s an impending hurdle that the franchise has not surpassed since the 2000-01 season, a playoff run that saw a young Allen Iverson carry a team to the NBA Finals. Though there is still a long road for this year’s team to get to that point, what we’ve seen through 2 early playoff games shows that this team has as good a chance as any of this generation of Sixers basketball. Only time will tell if they ultimately outperform the playoff teams of the past couple years in Philly, but one thing is already clear: this is the Sixers team that we were promised.
No, not at the beginning of The Process. Despite Sam Hinkie’s initial goal being building a perennial contender (and that has arguably been accomplished), there are still levels of success needed to be reached in order to rectify the years spent tanking to get to this point. I’m talking about the team we were promised at this year’s trade deadline when the Sixers made a blockbuster trade with the Brooklyn Nets to bring James Harden to town in exchange for Ben Simmons. Think back to the excitement of that week, and all of the national pundits’ bold predictions on what this team could be with one of the great scorers in the history of the game. It’s easy to forget after the trials and tribulations of the post-trade-deadline regular season games, but this team was feared to be an offensive juggernaut the likes of which this league may never be able to defend. An elite inside out game propelled by the most dominant basketball force on the planet and a wizard at the point making sure he cannot be hampered by opposing defensive schemes. Not only was the Harden and Embiid pairing highly anticipated, but the ancillary pieces – Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, etc. – had a prime opportunity to excel in the crevices created by the Sixers’ two giant offensive weapons. It looked like an elite team, at least on paper.
Then, we saw them in action. Frankly, there were moments (and fairly so) that the Sixers did not look like they would be advancing past the 1st round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. The perimeter defense was non-existent, as was the transition defense. The offense was stagnant, the spacing was wonky, the distribution was too much at times, too little at others. There was little doubt about the talent the Sixers had, but plenty about the fit of the team. By the time the regular season concluded, the Sixers had fallen down to the 4 seed, not a bad spot, but certainly lower than most expected when the Harden trade came down. There was some earned skepticism heading into the playoffs, and some facets of the fan base had even started to resign themselves to what seemed destined to be another season where title contention was just out of their reach.
If you felt that way a week ago, I’d be surprised if you felt exactly the same now. All the Sixers have done since the playoffs began is become an absolutely dominant force on both sides of the court, fulfilling all of the initial prophecies about what this team could be with a James Harden and Joel Embiid pairing. People have mused, including on our airwaves here at The Fanatic, that there was no “playoff switch” that would just flip when the games counted for more. To some extent, they’re right, but it’s clear that this Sixers team has hit another gear in their 1st two postseason games. Everything that we were promised when James Harden joined this roster has been realized, if only in a small sample size, over the past couple of games. Will there be harder opponents than the Toronto Raptors down the line? Absolutely. Is this series’ performance a guarantee that the Sixers will continue playing at this level? Absolutely not. But what we are seeing now is exactly what we thought we were getting when Daryl Morey made the blockbuster trade of the NBA Season, and man, hasn’t it been awesome?