Joel Embiid, James Harden, 76ers Clinch 2022 NBA Playoff Berth with Win over Cavs

Adam WellsApril 4, 2022

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 25: Joel Embiid #21 and James Harden #1 of the Philadelphia 76ers celebrate after Harden drew a foul against Karl-Anthony Towns #32 of the Minnesota Timberwolves (not pictured) in the fourth quarter of the game at Target Center on February 25, 2022 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The 76ers defeated the Timberwolves 133-102. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this Photograph, user is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by David Berding/Getty Images)
David Berding/Getty Images

The Philadelphia 76ers are in the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season.

Philadelphia clinched a postseason berth Sunday with a 112-108 win over the Cleveland Cavaliers at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. A 44-point performance from Joel Embiid helped the Sixers hold off a late push from the Cavs.

This was a different route to the playoffs for the Sixers than it was in the previous four years.

All of the headlines coming into the season revolved around Ben Simmons' future with the team. The three-time All-Star requested a trade in August during a meeting with Sixers management.

It took until the Feb. 10 trade deadline, but Sixers president of basketball operations Daryl Morey took advantage of James Harden's unhappiness with the Brooklyn Nets to add the former NBA MVP in a blockbuster trade involving Simmons.

Even before the trade was made, Philadelphia was firmly in playoff contention thanks to Embiid.

Embiid remains the center around whom everything works. He is having an MVP-caliber season, entering Sunday averaging 30.0 points, 11.5 rebounds and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 49.4 percent from the floor and 36.4 percent from deep.

Tyrese Maxey is in the midst of a breakout season as the starting point guard. The second-year standout entered Sunday putting up 17.2 points and 4.3 assists per game while shooting 41.6 percent from three-point range. And Matisse Thybulle has solidified himself as one of the best wing defenders in the NBA.

After missing eight straight games with a hamstring injury, Harden's debut for the 76ers was a massive success. He dropped 27 points and dished out 12 assists in a 133-102 win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Feb. 25.

Philadelphia 76ers @sixers

James played Hard(en) last night. πŸ”₯ <a href="https://t.co/hRebofdTnY">pic.twitter.com/hRebofdTnY</a>

"That was probably the most wide-open I've ever been in my career," Embiid joked with reporters after that game, in which he scored 34 points and grabbed 10 rebounds.

Bringing in Harden is supposed to be the next step in the process for a 76ers team that is trying to get over the hump in the playoffs.

The Sixers haven't advanced past the Eastern Conference Semifinals in each of the past four seasons. Two of those losses came in Game 7s, including the Kawhi Leonard buzzer-beater against the Toronto Raptors in 2019 and the Atlanta Hawks series in 2021 that marked the unofficial end of Simmons' tenure in Philadelphia.

Even though Morey had to sacrifice some of Philadelphia's depth in the Harden trade, including sending Seth Curry to Brooklyn, this roster is set up to make a deep playoff run on the strength of having two of the best players in the NBA.

The last time the 76ers reached the Eastern Conference Finals was during the 2000-01 season. They beat the Milwaukee Bucks in seven games before losing to the Los Angeles Lakers in the NBA Finals.

It remains to be seen whether this team can have the same run as that squad, but all of the pieces are in place for a special postseason in Philadelphia.