Ben Simmons has written another chapter of his fairytale rookie NBA season, leading Philadelphia out of recent dark days to become legitimate championship contenders.
The 76ers eliminated Miami Heat from the playoffs on Wednesday (Tuesday US time) with a 104-91 victory in front of a jubilant home crowd.
But instead of celebrating their first series victory since 2012, the 21-year-old from Melbourne was all business.
“On to the next series,” he said.
“We have to focus on that.”
The 76ers emphatically won the first round series against the Heat 4-1 and will play the winner of the Boston-Milwaukee series in the second round.
The Celtics feature Queensland big man Aron Baynes and the Bucks have Australian duo Matthew Dellavedova and Thon Maker.
Simmons had 14 points, nine rebounds and six assists against the Heat.
He was the victim of physical play including being undercut by Josh Richardson and struck by Goran Dragic but refused to be baited.
“The game is bigger than that play,” he said.
Joel Embiid, the 76ers’ 213cm tall centre from Cameroon, arrived in Philadelphia in 2014 but had his debut delayed for two years while recovering from foot and knee injuries.
Simmons was the 76ers’ No.1 draft pick in 2016 but the freakish 208cm tall point guard missed his first season with a foot injury.
Veteran JJ Redick says the team can go all the way.
“You can see it in their eyes,” he said.
76ers’ coach Brett Brown, covered in chocolate milk and water tossed around his locker room in celebration, reflected post-game how he’d joined the 76ers in 2013 when they were so bad they had 63 losses and 19 wins.
The next season the 76ers had 18 wins and 64 losses and then came the horror 2015-16 season when they had just 10 wins and 72 losses.
It was all part of a strategy dubbed “The Process” where losing seasons led to high draft picks like Simmons and Embiid.
The Heat’s future Hall of Fame inductee Dwyane Wade, possibly playing his last NBA game, had 11 points and five rebounds.
He will announce his decision when he returns to Miami.
Earlier on Tuesday in Boston, the Celtics took a 3-2 lead against Milwaulkee with a 92-87 win.
The Celtics can eliminate the Bucks from the playoffs in Thursday’s game six and set up the second-round battle with the 76ers.
The Celtics surprisingly shifted Australian big man Baynes to the bench in favour of more athletic Semi Ojeleye.
Maker, after stunning games in the past two wins in Milwaukee, had just two points, no blocks and fouled out in the final seconds.
Dellavedova was scoreless and struggled with the Celtics pressuring him full court when he brought the ball up.
The Bucks’ Giannis Antetokounmpo was not his dynamic best with 16 points and 10 rebounds.
In Oakland, Patty Mills’ San Antonio Spurs were eliminated by reigning champions Golden State.
The Warriors fended off a late charge to win 99-91 and clinch the series 4-1.
They will face the New Orleans Pelicans in the second round.
Playing without coach Gregg Popovich again after the death last week of his wife Erin, the Spurs came within two points of a late upset.
The Warriors’ Kevin Durant cooly sealed the game with a jump shot at the top of the key and then hit two free throws.
Mills connected with seven baskets, including four three-pointers.