July 24, 2019
It's only been a couple of months since Kawhi Leonard's shot bounced and bounced and bounced — and then bounced again — before falling through the rim and officially ending the Sixers's championship dreams.
But on Thursday, playoff basketball is back. No, not for Joel Embiid and the rest of the Sixers, but for the organization's esports team, 76ers Gaming Club, who enter the NBA 2K League playoffs as one of the favorites to contend for the title in the league's second season, along with the Blazers and Mavs.
And, after returning nearly their entire starting five from a year ago and capturing a second straight season-opening title at THE TIPOFF tournament, the third-seeded 76ers GC are ready to turn their attention to the playoffs. But, according to head coach Jeff Terrell, they'd be wise to remember the lessons they learned during the regular season.
"It went well," Terrell said when asked what he thought of the team's season. "I think 11-5 is a pretty respectable record. We lost some games that we probably shouldn't have, but I think that's going to help us in the long run with closing games, different situations we were in that we didn't capitalize on certain ways. So I think they're all lessons, not losses."
And Terrell's squad is hoping those lessons pay dividends in the postseason, when there's a lot more than just bragging rights on the line. There's also quite a bit of bonus money on the line. There is $720,000 up for grabs in the 2K League playoffs, with the champion taking home 50% of the total prize pool.
"It's not really any different in how we approach the game," said point guard and MVP finalist Radiant, a.k.a. Ethan White. "But when you walk on that stage and the game's about to start, you definitely feel a different energy, you feel a little more amped up. Because you worked the whole season to get to here, and now you're here. Now you've got to capitalize on it."
They will face Pacers Gaming in Round 1 on Thursday night, which will consist of a three-game series — but unlike traditional basketball, all three games will be played on the same day. The Philly squad expects a challenge from the Pacers, and doesn't seem to be taking their higher seed for granted.
"They're a good defensive team," Terrell said of his team's opponent. "That's what they kind of pride themselves on. They're going to give us their best shot. They're going to have a ton of energy, they're going to have fans there. It's going to be a really great series. As for how they'll go against us, honestly there are two different lineups they'll run, and we're prepared for both of them. We really like our chances if we go out there and do what we're supposed to do."
These teams met during Week 11 of the regular season, with the 76ers GC coming away with a 16-point victory in which Radiant went for 30 points and eight assists.
"They're obviously a good team. And you can't take any team lightly, especially in the playoffs," said small forward Steez, a.k.a Andrew Bernstein, who along with Radiant was one of the two players the team protected from last season's expansion draft. "We know they're going to give us 100% of their best shot, and that's what we want. We don't want them to just roll over on us.
"We're a high-caliber team, a championship-caliber team, and that's what we're here to do. I don't want to say it's going to be a walk in the park this first game, but we're going to go in there with the mentality that we're the best team in the is league right now and we're going to show it."
Winners of four straight, Philly is one of the hotter teams heading into the postseason. But they'll also have something else going for them — they're one of the most seasoned teams in the league.
Last year, we wrote about how Terrell, who is among the favorites to win 2019 2K League Coach of the Year, was using his actual basketball knowledge to implement something few other teams were using, actual offensive sets. While some of the league settings changed and their scheme has been altered to reflect that, 76ers GC has a level of consistency that few other teams have by bringing back four of their starters from the previous year — Radiant, Steez, Newdini (Antonio Newman), and ZDS (Rashann Petty). The two new additions this season are BreadwinnerLA (Christopher Lafanette), who was just named to the 2K League All-Defensive Team on Wednesday, and oCASSIUS (Sean Clayton).
I don't think anybody's been battle tested like us. ... We know what it's like to lose, and we know what it's like to win.
"We knew coming into this season that we were brining back four starters from last year, so we knew that chemistry wasn't going to be a problem," said Radiant. "We spent six months with each other last season and so we all knew each other and we were all friends, so all it was really about was adding one person to our system. So we knew we had the chemistry, we just had to go out there and get the job done."
It's about more than just the total number of games this squad has played together. It's also about what they've been through as a team. They've experienced the highs and the lows together, and now know how each other will react in any given situation. According to Terrell, that's going to be huge if this team hopes to achieve their goal of bringing a 2K League title to Philly..
"I don't think anybody's been battle tested like us," he said. "We've won two back-to-back championships in THE TIPOFF, we've been to finals in the other tournaments. We know what it's like to lose, and we know what it's like to win. I think that just being in so many different scenarios and situations, that we'll be able to hold our composure better than other teams when things aren't going well and we'll be able to fight through it."
Leading the charge for 76ers GC will be Radiant, who is averaging 20 points and 11.1 assists per game. He was the Sixers first-round pick in the inaugural 2K League draft and was retained by the team after Year 1, for obvious reasons. Now, an MVP finalist for the second straight year, Radiant is one of the best 2K players on the planet and excels on both sides of the ball in a way very few can.
"In my eyes, he's been very consistent for two years now," said Terrell. "He's been a very, very tough guard for opponents, and nobody's really figured him out. We run a lot of pick-and-roll, and they've had a year now if you add both seasons together and they still haven't figured him out. He's a great distributor, he can shoot, he's actually a very, very good defender, which is starting to show. And I just think he deserves MVP for sure."
Added Steez, "Just the way that he grinds and the way that he chooses to be the best point guard in the world, which is just his work ethic. After hours, he's always working on his dribbling moves and his shot — he's definitely one of the best shooting PGs out there. But his IQ and ability to put his teammates in the best position to be successful is really what makes him the MVP of this league right now."
Each of the last two seasons, the 76ers GC's season started with a bang. Unlike last season, when they were the No. 2 seed but lost in the semifinals to Heat Check Gaming, Philly is hoping their season will also end with a bang — and a little extra cash.
But that won't change the way Terrell and his team play.
"We'll stick to what we do," the coach said. "We're very consistent with stuff. Even going back to last year, we've remained consistent and we'll stay that way. Like Radiant said, there's going to be a lot more energy. We worked for this all year. We're not really too worried about individual accolades — or even winning the in-season tournaments — but coming in, our goal was championship or bust. And we're holding true to that."
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