The Philadelphia 76ers are in a position that no one imagined eight days ago - not even Sixers fans like myself. Heading into Game 4 against the Chicago Bulls on May 6, the Sixers are not on the brink of being swept, but are on the brink of a commanding 3-1 lead. Yet although no one saw this coming before the series started, this isn't exactly an unfamiliar scenario - but Philadelphia hopes the ending will be different this time.
For the third time in five years, the Sixers have a stunning 2-1 lead over a heavy favorite in the first round and can take a 3-1 lead by winning Game 4 at home. But when they had this chance in 2008 and 2009, they failed and then never really put up a fight in their series again.
In 2008, Philadelphia tried to go up by 3-1 over the Detroit Pistons and looked poised to do it in Game 4. However, after going into halftime with a 10 point lead, the Sixers lost it all when the Pistons blew them out by 34-16 in the third quarter. From then on in, the Pistons blew them out for the rest of the series and were never seriously challenged again.
Things were a little different in 2009 when the Sixers tried to upset the Orlando Magic. Game 4 in Philadelphia wasn't a blowout, yet it made the Sixers' loss even more painful. Once again, getting blown out in the third quarter made the difference, although Philadelphia nearly came back anyway, But after the Magic held on by 84-81, they cruised through the next two games and didn't stop until they went to the NBA Finals.
In both those playoff runs, the Sixers only had enough to scare powerhouses for three games until the heavy favorites finally woke up. That tends to happen, as big favorites can afford to fall asleep for a little while, until they remember who they are and remind Philadelphia of how overmatched it really is. After the Sixers lost their one chance to take total control in 2008 and 2009, they were not in a position to get it back again.
With that history in mind, Game 4 against the Bulls might just have more pressure on the Sixers, believe it or not. Joakim Noah will likely join Derrick Rose on the sidelines, leaving Chicago even more shorthanded just as it is reeling from back-to-back losses. However, if the Bulls can win in Philadelphia despite being down 2-1 and despite not having Rose or Noah, they can go back to Chicago with all the momentum in the world.
Should that happen, it would be very easy to envision the Sixers falling apart the rest of the way, like in 2008 and 2009 after they got a harsh reality check in Game 4. But Philadelphia had a different core and different coach in those two years - and hopefully that will help it come up with a different result in this latest Game 4 opportunity.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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