The Philadelphia 76ers were probably considered the luckiest team of the season. Even while Sixers fans like myself rejoiced at their 20-9 start, an easy schedule and easy division had a lot to do with it. Then they got lucky just to make the playoffs after coming down to Earth, and then got to face a Chicago Bulls team that lost Derrick Rose and Joakin Noah. But after Game 3 against the Boston Celtics on May 16, the Sixers seemed to run out of luck and harsh reality appeared to be crashing down.
And reality did keep crashing down in the first half of Game 4 on May 18, as the Celtics jumped to a 14-0 lead and a 15-point halftime advantage. But the Sixers still won by 92-83 not because of luck, injuries or entirely because of the opposition's mental errors. This time, they brought themselves back to life entirely on merit.
The Sixers' success could not be dismissed from their opponent losing any superstars, or from the Celtics doing more to lose this game than Philadelphia did to win it. For a team to be completely lifeless in the first half, only to rise completely back to life in the second, it doesn't just take a fortunate break or two.
After all, the Sixers scored only 31 points in the first half, shot 23 percent, and did all this after a seemingly season-crushing blowout loss in Game 3. Even if Rajon Rondo, Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen all got injured in the second half, the Philadelphia squad that played in the first half would not have taken advantage in the slightest.
Yet for some inexplicable reason, the Sixers found new life against a fully healthy, yet less efficient and disciplined Celtics team that had had its way for a game-and-a-half. It was Philadelphia that made the big shots, stood tall when Boston still threatened to win, and actually closed the game on a 9-0 run despite struggling to close throughout the regular season.
Most of the flaws that almost ruined the Sixers all regular season have been corrected in the postseason. Yet the loss of Rose and Noah got most of the credit for that in the Bulls series, so the Celtics were supposed to prove it was all just a fluke. And that's exactly what it looked like after Game 3 and the start of Game 4 - but Philadelphia proved otherwise once and for all.
This is no longer a team that is just the beneficiary of injuries, mental breakdowns and unexplainable slumps from powerful opponents. The Sixers showed at last that they have gotten this far on merit - and may not be done winning on merit quite yet.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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