The Philadelphia 76ers were the upstart team trying to eliminate the Boston Celtics in the second round. Sixers fans like myself were thrilled at how far they pushed the Celtics, yet the final minutes of Game 7 on May 26 finally broke our hearts. Boston held on to finally pull away in that Game 7 - but it couldn't do the same against the Miami Heat in its next Game 7 on June 9.
Like they did against the Sixers, the Celtics jumped out early in Game 7 against the Heat and then struggled to put them down. But while Boston was able to hold on over Philadelphia at home, it was a different story when Miami pulled away in the fourth quarter for a 101-88 victory in South Beach.
The Celtics-Sixers Game 7 was an ugly defensive struggle throughout, but the Celtics-Heat Game 7 was a bit prettier. Boston came out hot and was beating Miami at its own offensive game, stretching its lead to as large as 11 in the first half. It was the second straight Game 7 in which the Celtics were the superior first half team, yet like the Sixers, the Heat still kept hanging around.
Miami was able to do more about it, as it drew even in the third quarter and kept exchanging the lead with Boston. Two weeks earlier, the Sixers kept getting close to the Celtics but couldn't quite get over the hump to challenge for the lead. But while Philadelphia hit a wall against Boston at the very end, the Celtics were the ones who crashed at the end of this Game 7.
The Sixers didn't have a Big Three to take them past the Celtics, yet the Heat finally had LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh fully united at the end of this series. They combined to score all 28 of Miami's fourth quarter points while Boston ran out of gas to keep up.
Philadelphia at least got as close as three points in the final minutes before Rajon Rondo drove a dagger into it. But this time around, the Celtics were done by the times the final minutes came in Miami, as the Heat closed them out with a 20-6 run.
Boston overachieved before giving out in the very end of a Game 7, just as Philadelphia did two weeks earlier. Yet when the Sixers ultimately gave out, they still got to leave with hope for the future ahead. Meanwhile, the Celtics' lost opportunity in Game 7 leaves them with a much more uncertain future, as the Big Four approach their long expected breakup.
Maybe this will give the Sixers the opening they need to take over in the Atlantic Division next year and beyond. It all depends on which franchise recovers from its heartbreaking Game 7 road loss fast enough - and which team will have the most successful offseason overhaul.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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