The Philadelphia 76ers refused to die off easily in the NBA playoffs, until the Boston Celtics finally put them down. Sixers fans like myself were pleasantly surprised by their resiliency, even if it ultimately didn't take them past the second round. In contrast, while the Miami Heat's resiliency and clutch gene has been doubted and derided time and again, they have still made some big rallies to reach the NBA Finals.
But now the Heat are already on the comeback trail as the NBA Finals head into Game 2 on June 14. While Miami has rallied from a 2-1 deficit in the second round and a 3-2 hole in the Eastern Conference Finals, the prospect of being down by 2-0 to the Oklahoma City Thunder looks much more daunting.
That is what the Heat have to avoid in Game 2, yet after their rough Game 1 loss on June 12, their chances look a little weaker. Although Miami came out red hot to start Game 1, it couldn't keep up with Oklahoma City forever and fell apart in the second half. The Heat were outclassed once the Thunder got going - a situation which Miami is usually on the other end of.
It happened in the second round when the Heat took a long time to get going against the Indiana Pacers. However, after struggling for two-and-a-half games, Miami finally woke up and overwhelmed Indiana the rest of the way. Then after giving up a 2-0 lead in the conference finals to the Celtics, the Heat suddenly rose from the ashes to steal the series and an NBA Finals berth.
If the Heat go down 0-2 to the Thunder, they still have three games back home - and away from the madness of Oklahoma City - to look forward to. So even if Miami loses Game 2, that home court advantage and the comebacks in the Eastern Conference playoffs will give it hope for another rally. Yet the Pacers were too inexperienced and the Celtics were too old to finish the Heat off - whereas the Thunder may be less willing to give anything away.
The Sixers recovered from losing their opening games with the Celtics and Chicago Bulls on the road to take home court back. Then they came back from a 2-1 and 3-2 deficit to the Celtics to force a Game 7 before they finally hit a wall. Are the Heat about to hit their own wall in the NBA Finals, where they don't have enough to come back anymore?
Philadelphia exhausted itself just to get to Game 7 of the second round, but it wasn't ready to go any further. Miami has exhausted itself just to reach the NBA Finals, yet everyone will soon see if it is finally ready to go further and take that first ring in the Big Three era. A Game 2 loss might not knock the Heat out, but it will make their latest comeback harder than the others - perhaps too hard.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan.
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