Boy, the 2017-2018 Philadelphia 76ers season was fun. You know what was fun?
One of my favorite sports movies of the last decade is “Moneyball”. It’s also the reason why I’ve become such an analytics
nerd enthusiast. If you’ve never seen it, what are you waiting for? It’s fantastic.
There’s a portion in the movie that chronicles between August 13 and September 4, 2002 when the Oakland A’s won 20 straight games. Considering the roster that was built, no one in their right mind thought that was a possibility. It’s one of the cooler moments of the film.
The Philadelphia 76ers treated fans to similar feelings this season. From March 15th until April 14th, we felt what it was like to have a team that was not only really good, but seemingly unbeatable. Say what you will about the strength of schedule, but it was an exhilarating run.
It all started with the Sixers’ 118-110 win over the New York Knicks. Joel Embiid had 29 points and 10 rebounds, and Ben Simmons had another triple-double. What happens next? They beat Brooklyn 120-116, then a 108-94 win against Charlotte.
The wins kept piling up: “W” after “W”. The Sixers had already been one of the hotter teams in the NBA since Christmas against the Knicks (coincidence?) with a 22-12 mark. A mini-run of seven games took place during that stretch in February, but what the Sixers did next was something that hadn’t been seen since December 1982 through January of 1983.
That season (‘82-’83), the Sixers won 65 games and the NBA Championship. During that year, the Sixers won 14 straight games in the aforementioned December/January period. It stood as the longest winning streak in franchise history until this year. “Winning streak” is a term Sixers fans haven’t been used to in a while. “Losing streaks”? Let’s not talk about that, shall we?
The team’s last win streak of five or more games was January of 2012.
How about ten or more? The last of those came in November of 2000.
NBA media types tried to do all they could to discredit the streak by pointing out that the Sixers didn’t play anyone good. You can do that if you want to, but you won’t ruin our enjoyment of this. It was pointed out many, many times that the Sixers had one of the most favorable second half schedules in the league. Why not take advantage of that?
The Sixers played four playoff teams during their 17-game win streak: Minnesota (a 120-108 win), Denver (who was in the playoff hunt at the time), Cleveland (a nice 132-130 nailbiter), and Milwaukee on the last day of the season. By season’s end, the Sixers went from 38-30 and fluctuating between the 5 and 6 seed to a 52-30 record and the #3 seed in the Eastern Conference.
As impressive as that is, keep in mind the Sixers had to do it without Joel Embiid for the last seven games after fracturing an orbital bone during the March 30th game against the Knicks. Without their best player, the team kept winning.
*Takes a sip from my TJ McConnell “Gritness” mug.
When the playoffs began, the Sixers were in the zone. They were the team that “no one wants to face in the playoffs” with a record of 21-5 since the All-Star Break and a 37-12 mark since the Christmas Day game.
Statistically, the team was running like a finely tuned Ferrari with a full tank of gas. The Sixers scored 100+ points in every game during the streak. Ben Simmons had FIVE triple-doubles during the streak. Dario Saric had his hottest month from deep shooting close to 46%. Before the facial fracture, Embiid was being his usual dominant self.
The streak ended with a 113-103 loss to the Miami Heat in game two of the opening round of the playoffs. The loss of Embiid finally caught up with them even though Simmons had 24 points, 9 rebounds and 8 assists. It didn’t help that Robert Covington and J.J. Redick went a combined 1-16 from three in that game.
Embiid came back in game three, and the Sixers closed Miami out in five games followed by the deflating (and depressing) five game series loss to the Boston Celtics. Guys, going up against Brad Stevens is not easy. Too many were too quick to dismiss the Celtics, and I think they took it personal.
Regardless of the events of the end of the season and the elimination of our Philadelphia 76ers, that was one hell of a ride in March and April. I assume that’s how it felt in for those who could enjoy 1983 when Dr. J. and Moses ripped off 14-straight.
I predict there will be many more streaks in this core’s future. Maybe not franchise-record-breaking streaks. But exciting runs in which the Sixers look like the Monstars, terrifying their rivals. The Sixers are very young, Joel Embiid isn’t even practicing with the team, and the franchise is set up to do even more damage if they can pull off a star addition. Still, this season felt special. It was the first of (hopefully) many lengthy streaks, but the first time is always the most fun.