The Philadelphia 76ers had no expectations going into their series with the Chicago Bulls. Even Sixers fans like myself didn't expect too much immediately after Derrick Rose got injured, yet three straight wins turned that around. Now all of a sudden, the Sixers have high expectations and favored status going into Game 5 at Chicago on May 8 - and a loss would put all the pressure on them.
Thanks to losing Rose and Joakim Noah and losing three straight games, the Bulls have become the heavy underdogs. But now that they have no one believing in them and have been written off as an NBA title contender, they might be the ones with nothing left to lose. After all, there isn't that much more left that they haven't already lost.
Now it's Philadelphia that has to deal with being a favorite and with having to close out its first playoff series win in almost a decade. Although everything seems to be in the Sixers' favor, the Bulls can attest to how one bad break or two can change that. As such, it would benefit the Sixers a great deal to close things out in Chicago right away, before they give the Bulls any new signs of life.
If the Bulls take Game 5, they will go back to Philadelphia needing just one win to seize home court advantage and all the momentum. What's more, they would likely have Noah back for Game 6, which would give Chicago an advantage if he was even at half-strength. In that scenario, all the pressure would be on the Sixers to finish off the Bulls at home, or else risk having the entire series slip away.
Should the Bulls get back to Chicago for a Game 7 with a healthy Noah, the Sixers might have a hard time recovering. Chicago would then be playing with house money, having exceeded its suddenly low expectations - just as Philadelphia did when it broke ahead in the series.
The Sixers are still regarded as a fortunate team, as they may not be winning this series as much as the Bulls are losing it. Injuries and poor second half play have doomed Chicago, while Philadelphia has just sat back and taken advantage. But if the Sixers really deserve to win this series on their own merit, they will be able to finish off the Bulls immediately and not give them any glimmers of hope to rally back.
Teams that have earned the right to advance in the playoffs have a killer instinct, and it is time for the Sixers to establish theirs. Otherwise if there is a Game 6 in Philadelphia, some nagging doubt will start to creep in and Chicago might finally remember who it usually is after all.
What it usually is is a team much better than Philadelphia, although it hasn't looked that way in this series. Therefore, the Sixers would do well to kill any chance of it looking differently again, right here and now.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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