The Philadelphia 76ers are moving on to the Eastern Conference semifinals, overwhelming the dogged but outgunned Miami Heat to earn a convincing and impressive 4-1 win, It’s just Philly’s second trip to the second round in the last 15 seasons, and it’s the first playoff series victory for rising stars Joel Embiid, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric … and, for that matter, head coach Brett Brown.
Nobody has more fully borne the weight of the 76ers’ yearslong rebuilding process than Brown, who took the lead job in Philadelphia just over a month after a just-hired general manager named Sam Hinkie began dismantling a decent-but-not-good-enough team by trading All-Star point guard Jrue Holiday for Nerlens Noel, an enticing defensive prospect who maybe wasn’t going to play as a rookie after tearing the ACL in his left knee, and a future first-round draft pick.
As the Sixers sold process, promise and possibility, a vision of a gleaming titan that would someday compete for championships, Brown had to do the day-to-day work of coaching overmatched, not-ready-for-the-NBA rosters. He had to work to build a culture around the principles and habits that the organization believed would one day allow it to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the NBA’s elite … even though most of the players he was working with wouldn’t be wearing a 76ers uniform when that day came.
Brown had to grin and bear it through three years in which the Sixers went 47-199; to keep teaching and motivating through Noel, Embiid and Simmons all missing their would-be rookie seasons due to injury; to find something to sustain his charges through record-setting losing streaks and a brutal 10-win season that, under different circumstances, would have cost everybody their jobs. (Instead, it was just the guy who started everything in motion who wound up on the outside.)
This is what sustained him: the belief that it would click, that it would pay off, that he really would get to coach the roster with top-end talent and legit contributors. And now, after a roaring 52-win regular season and a five-win dismissal of a hard-nosed and professional Miami squad, Brown’s faith has been rewarded. So, on Wednesday, he got to congratulate his team, and to celebrate a little bit.
“That is a monumental effort, given where we were and where we are,” Brown said in the locker room after Game 5. “To win a round in the playoffs is not to be denied. That’s special, especially given where we have come from. That’s the first thing. And the second thing, and I have said this to you — I believe it, you believe it — we have so much more to grow and give.”
He paused and turned back to Embiid, just three games removed from his return to the lineup following weeks on the shelf after surgery to repair an orbital fracture.
“You’re going to start playing more and more with us,” Brown said. “These playoff experiences, as you guys learn — like, real-time adjustments, as we sit in the film sessions — we got more to give. And we got more to grow. And we know that.”
At that, Brown invited veteran shooting guard J.J. Redick — Philly’s leading scorer in the series-clinching win, pouring in 27 points and knocking down five of his 10 3-point tries — over to ring a small ceremonial bell that the team’s been using for months, sort of like a game ball, to celebrate victories. But Redick would have none of it, putting the bell right back in the hands of his coach … as the rest of the Sixers poured whatever they had handy over Brown’s head in celebration.
It was a pretty cool scene.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 25, 2018
Afterward, though, Brown still had to go give his post-game press conference, which included an all-time line …
Brett Brown, drenched in celebratory chocolate milk: "I really don't apologize. I love being wet."
— Jake Fischer (@JakeLFischer) April 25, 2018
… and a pretty great summation of how far the Sixers have come during his stewardship of the franchise.
“Through rough times, through adversity, for sure, we didn’t blink,” Brown said. “We stayed strong in what we were trying to do […] We’ve got more to do. We’ve got more to give. We’re excited, for sure, and there was a sense of just gratitude, and [I’m] proud of all of us for staying together.”
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