(Featured Photo: Getty Images)
Last night the Philadelphia 76ers closed out their first round series (4-1) against the Miami Heat by winning 104-91. It was another great moment in a season full of them for the young 76ers, as the team continues to outperform their preseason expectations. Joel Embiid performed well returning from his face injury, Ben Simmons continues to be a basketball anomoly, and JJ Redick shot the Heat out the gym. As the 76ers were ready to turn the page on this series going into their pregame shootaround, the focus shifted from them to something, or should I say, someone else.
That “someone” was Meek Mill, who was released from prison after the Pennsylvania Supreme Court ordered Meek’s judge to release him on bail. Rumors started spreading that he was out, with pretty much all of these rumors coming from Meek’s friend and 76ers co-owner Michael Rubin. In what was an absurd string of events unfolding in a neat timeline on Twitter, Meek went from being released from jail, being picked up by Rubin, taking a helicopter to the 76ers game, and then sitting courtside with Kevin Hart and Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, all in the matter of about 8-12 hours.
It’s no secret that Philly loves their hometown rapper, as the Eagles came out to his songs many times during their championship season, and he even got to ring the liberty bell before the game last night after the 76ers came out to his song, “I’ma Boss”.
The whole Meek Mill prison saga ending gives another spark to the 76ers, who definitely didn’t need another burst of energy, but got it anyways. People who cover the NBA are now starting to believe in the 76ers coming out of the Eastern Conference, and they’re not crazy for thinking so.
The 76ers have been the hottest team in the NBA for the past month now, going 20-1 between the Heat series and going back in the regular season to March 15th. Some could argue that this is a small enough sample size to still have doubts in regards to their age, but they’ve been dominant for even longer than that 21 game sample. According to USA Today, since the beginning of 2018 they’ve had the best winning percentage in the Eastern Conference, winning 76% of their games in the new year. That shows a large enough sample size to infer that these 76ers are for real. It may have taken them the first half of the season to work some things out, but they’re young, that will happen.
That brings us to this moment, as Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Dario Saric look more like seasoned playoff veterans than three guys with a total 334 regular season games played between each other. Here’s those three guys’ stat lines from the series against the Heat: Simmons: 18.2 PPG/10.6 RPB/9.0 APG, Embiid: 18.7 PPG/10.3 RPG/3.0 BPG, Saric: 16.6 PPG/6.8 RPG/3.4 APG. Even just one of those stat lines from one of you’re very young players would satisfy you in the playoffs. But then you have three players all under the age of 24 doing that at the same time? Well then you have something special. In addition to those younglings you’ve got elite, veteran 3-point shooters in JJ Redick, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova who shot a combined 35.7% from 3 in the first round series.
The team is just full of energy right now, mostly due to their players’ ballin’ out, but also due to the city supporting the team. The Wells Fargo Center has had Kevin Hart and Allen Iverson courtside during these playoffs and past regular season games, but the arrival of Meek Mill has really taken the courtside celebrity personas to a whole other level. Meek Mill’s recent 5 months in jail has achieved folklore status, mostly from exposure from the rap community but also the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. Meek’s songs popped up many times at Lincoln Financial and Karl Anthony-Towns was even seen wearing a “Free Meek Mill” personalized jersey at the Super Bowl. Meek has recently somehow seemed more like a Nelson Mandela type figure than a normal rapper, with people visiting him and giving the public updates on his well-being and what he has had to say.
Meek has arrived for the 76ers in the best time, as the team is unstoppable right now. They still have a tough road to get to the Finals, but not as tough as it would have seemed a week ago. The Cleveland Cavaliers are trying to move on from the stingy Indiana Pacers, the Toronto Raptors are struggling with the 8 seed Washington Wizards, and the Kyrie-less Boston Celtics are fighting with the Milwaukee Bucks who have been up-and-down all season. Many have brought up the 76ers’ inexperience leading up to the playoffs, but this team is just “Young and Gettin’ It”, and they might just ride their raw talent all the way to the NBA Finals.