The Philadelphia 76ers lost their first opportunity to close out the Chicago Bulls in Game 5 on May 8. Yet Sixers fans like myself can be comforted by how their second chance is at the Wells Fargo Center, where they've beaten the Bulls twice already. But if Game 6 on May 10 doesn't close out this series, the third time will likely not be the charm for the Sixers in Game 7 at Chicago.
Philadelphia still has the momentum of a 3-2 series lead and a chance to advance at home. However, Chicago is finally starting to have things go right after winning Game 5, getting offensive leadership from Luol Deng and Carlos Boozer, and having the prospect of Joakim Noah coming back soon. If the Bulls take Game 7 and come home after avoiding elimination twice in a row, the Sixers may become big underdogs all over again.
This is why the Sixers needed to show their killer instinct in Game 5 and eliminate all possible hope for a Bulls resurgence. But now that Chicago has the makings of new life, Philadelphia has to figure out how to put it down for keeps this time. If it doesn't do so now, it might never happen - and its last chance to do so in Game 7 wouldn't look as promising as Game 6.
The Sixers problem for much of the regular season was closing games out and ending the year on a strong note. But after closing out the Bulls late in Games 3 and 4 at Philadelphia, it looked like they had finally found a clutch gene. However, it is easier to use that skill when they score, and the Sixers have barely scored at all lately. What's more, the defense won't always be able to carry them through like it did in the Wells Fargo Center, since it couldn't in Game 5 at the United Center.
Even the Boston Celtics - the veteran, championship laden Celtics who are now projected into the conference finals against the Miami Heat - couldn't finish off their opening series on the road either. Yet the Celtics are still heavily favored to finish the Atlanta Hawks in their Game 6 at home on May 10, although it might be a bit trickier for the Sixers to do the same.
It is tricky going into Game 6, yet it could look downright unlikely if the Sixers have to face a Game 7. They can get away with letting the Bulls come back to life for one night, yet letting it happen again could just put them on the brink of death all of a sudden. But if Philadelphia remembers/discovers how to close, then this paranoia will be baseless after all.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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