With their impressive 115-90 victory Friday night over the New Jersey Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers clinched a spot in the playoffs for the first time in two years.
That may not seem like a huge accomplishment when taken at face value. For most Sixers fans however, it feels like a quantum leap when compared to last season.
But aside from the confetti that fell from the ceiling shortly after the final buzzer, it was hard for one to gauge the importance of last night's win.
76ers coach Doug Collins flashed his customary smile and gave out his usual post-game hugs, of course. But there were no overt celebrations, no champagne being uncorked in the home team's locker room.
With eight games left to go, and with playoff positioning still in the balance, the Sixers know that they have plenty of work to do before the postseason kicks off two weeks from today.
"The celebration is over," said Lou Williams shortly after the game. "We're excited to be back in the playoffs, but we're a long way from being done."
The Sixers haven't had much of a problem dealing with the Nets recently. They had won the last seven contests overall heading into last night, the final matchup of the four-game season series between the two teams.
Friday night was no different.
The Sixers began the game on an 18-5 run, and the smell of coronation was in the air at the Wells Fargo Center. The Nets were finishing up a stretch of five games in seven nights, and looked every bit the part of a team that had only played two home games in the past 14 days.
Andre Iguodala got out of the blocks early, scoring 12 of his 14 points in the first quarter as the Sixers ran out to a 29-21 lead after 12 minutes.
In the second quarter, the Nets went on a 12-2 run to cut the gap to four, but the 76ers went on a 17-4 run of their own, and effectively put the game away long before halftime.
Thaddeus Young, who has made a late-season charge at the NBA's Sixth Man of the Year award, led all scorers with 22 points on 9-for-12 shooting. Over the past eight games, Young has averaged 16.0 points and 6.5 rebounds, while providing much-needed energy and explosiveness off of the Sixers bench.
"Thad has been amazing," said Collins in his postgame press conference. "When he and Lou [Williams] play like they do off the bench, it makes us a whole different team."
Speaking of the Sixers bench, they were responsible for 53 points against the Nets, although most of those came with the outcome no longer in doubt. Coming into the game, the 76ers reserves had been averaging 39.7 points per game, good for third-best in the NBA.
While the veterans - Iguodala and Elton Brand, most notably - have been the steady hands guiding the ship the season, the 76ers young stars have been sparking the team's recent run.
The Sixers youth movement is led by point guard Jrue Holiday, who has been playing tremendous basketball of late. In his past four games, Holiday is averaging 20.3 points, 8.0 assists, and 5.3 rebounds, all while shooting nearly 61 percent from the field.
The contributions of co-captains Iguodala and Brand shouldn't be discounted, however. After the Nets win, they each received the "Ace of Spades" award - a distinction that Doug Collins hands out after every Sixers' victory.
The award wasn't for their performance last night, necessarily (although the two did combine for 35 points, 10 rebounds and 9 assists against New Jersey), but for their leadership throughout the season.
The Sixers are now 37-23 in their last 60 games, a vast improvement over their oft-mentioned 3-13 start to the year. With eight games left in the season, the 76ers are 2.5 games up on the New York Knicks for the 6th seed in the Eastern Conference.
At its current pace, Philadelphia would finish with its best record since 2002-03 when Larry Brown led the team to a 48-34 mark in his final season. Including Doug Collins, the 76ers have had seven head coaches since then. That should tell you all that you need to know about the recent success (or lack thereof) of the franchise.
While the Sixers made their entrance into the postseason official on Friday, playoff tickets had already been on sale for the past week. So while the invitation to the "second season" was pretty much a foregone conclusion, the 76ers players know that they still have some unfinished business to take care of.
"To get in the playoffs is a special feeling," said Elton Brand, gearing up for only his second postseason appearance in 12 NBA seasons. "Now that we're in, we can focus on winning more games. I'm elated, but we have a lot of work to do before the playoffs."