The Miami Heat have handled the Philadelphia 76ers rather easily through the first two games of the series. Despite needing a late-game surge to avoid an epic collapse in Game 1, Miami established itself as the more dominant team with its Game 2 rout. This, of course, is no surprise. The Heat were the heavy favorite entering this series; anything less than a five-game thrashing would be considered a disappointment.
The only problem with this sentiment—this apparent expected domination—is that hindsight is 20-20. What is it about Heat-76ers that is any different than Memphis-San Antonio, or, more appropriately, Lakers-Hornets? The Heat are the more talented team? The 76ers do not match-up well with Miami? Those answers are too simple. They can both be applied to Los Angeles, but cannot explain why New Orleans is up 1-0 on the road against the two-time defending champs.
This is where intangibles come in to play. The old immeasurable measure that explains why some formulas fail to produce the expected result is alive and well. The 76ers, unfortunately, may have finally realized that there is nothing else to draw from their tank in terms of having a real chance to win this series. They cannot outrun their opponent, minimizing their athleticism they relied on for much of the season. They cannot slow the game down in an effort to shorten it, thereby making it a half-court brawl, as their opponent is just as comfortable playing that style as anyone else in the league. The Heat’s defense, when played with the effort we should expect to see throughout this postseason, can intimidate even the most prolific offensive juggernauts. The 76ers have run out of ideas and motivation, the consequence of which is the prospect of needing 4 wins in their next 5 games against a team they have not beaten all year. There is, now, one way to measure Philadelphia’s chances the rest of the way: shake your head.
When you’re finished saying goodbye to Philadelphia, make sure to welcome the Indiana Pacers back home. After two heart-breaking losses to the overall number 1 seed on the road, Indiana returns to the state of basketball with all the confidence David had after slaying Goliath.
You say they’re down 2-0, facing the same predicament as the 76ers team, needing to win 4 out of the next 5 against everyone’s favorite to represent the East. I say Chicago did only what it was expected to do, and less.
The Bulls have not dominated the way the number 1 seed is expected, earning them a 2-game advantage over their opponent, yet squandering the main advantage it held entering the playoffs: undeniable superiority over a weaker opponent
The Pacers have no pressure to win—an underrated intangible. There should be no tightness or hesitation on the court. Their only problem is their lack of killer instinct, the ability to close out a team after leading the majority of the game. This is what separates winners from losers this time of year. This inability to overcome the final obstacle can be the single factor that allows one team to advance over another, regardless of match-ups. But the only way to learn how to win is by winning. The only way to win is by playing in hotly contested, high-stakes games. Indiana’s recent disappointment is their only chance to overcome their present reality.
Confident, pressure-free, and two games closer to becoming the type of team that can keep a lead, the Pacers have some more surprising to do. They just need to continue to play their game.
As simple as this may seem, the difference between Philadelphia and Indiana is what is unseen. And, now, that is very easy to measure.