The Philadelphia 76ers and Indiana Pacers had dreams of meeting each other in the conference finals just days ago. Sixers fans like myself were fueled with hope after their Game 4 comeback on May 18 over the Boston Celtics, and after the Pacers actually went up by 2-1 over the Miami Heat. But in just 48 hours, the Celtics and Heat may have gone a long way towards finally restoring order.
Both the Celtics and Sixers may have been disappointed when the Heat avoided a 3-1 deficit with a huge second half rally over the Pacers on May 20. However, Boston then took a page from Miami and used a massive second half of its own to thump Philadelphia on May 21. Now the Celtics are a win away from the conference finals and the Heat are favored to join them again.
Boston could have been deflated after blowing Game 4, and it looked like it had carried over when it was behind for much of the first half. However, the Celtics got a huge 18-point third quarter by Brandon Bass to seize control, with Kevin Garnett, Rajon Rondo and Paul Pierce taking care of the rest in the 101-85 win. In just a half, Philadelphia went from possibly taking command of the series to being on the brink of disaster.
Indiana can relate, as it went from having a potential 3-1 lead to being back behind the eight-ball after its own poor second half. In the Heat's case, both LeBron James and Dwayne Wade overwhelmed the opposition in the third quarter, and in much of the half. Their long awaited explosion together fueled the Heat's 101-93 win that is expected to carry over into Game 5 on May 22.
If Miami keeps getting hot and retakes the series lead, almost no one will expect Indiana to rally back. At that point, the Celtics-Heat conference final that was projected by everyone over a week ago may become reality after all. After facing greater scares than expected in the conference semifinals, is this when Boston and Miami finally stabilize the Eastern Conference?
The Celtics are closer to doing their part than the Heat right now, although that can change in 24 hours. Yet momentum has been very fleeting in both semifinals. Philadelphia's boost from winning Game 4 didn't carry over to the end of Game 5, while Indiana's two straight stunning wins didn't stop it from coughing up a third.
Whenever the Celtics and Heat have looked ready to brush aside the Sixers and Pacers thus far, it hasn't turned out so easily. Is there room for one or two more upsets and twists, or have Boston and Miami finally decided to stop playing around and stop looking ahead towards each other?
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has become quite familiar with the Celtics in that time.
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