Posted Apr 19 2011 12:58AM
MIAMI -- What this series needed was a catch-phrase, a theme song, a slogan that perfectly captures the mood. And it was delivered rather bluntly by a coach who, like a lonely puppeteer, has run out of strings to pull.
"If they're playing on top of their game," Doug Collins said, "they're a better team."
We don't know if the Heat are better than anyone else. It's much too early to tell. But at the moment, the team on the other bench doesn't compare. In every which way, we see how this is an unfortunate first-round draw for Collins and the Sixers, now sporting the second-most visible crack in Philadelphia.
"As a coach, you go into every game thinking, 'what matchup can you win?' In the first game, we won some matchups. Tonight we won no matchups."
It's really too bad, if you're a Sixers fan, or even a basketball fan hoping for some of the same drama and suspense seen elsewhere in the NBA. That's not happening in Heat-Sixers. Even the Pacers, seeded below Philly, are giving the Bulls a better run than Philly's giving Miami. If this keeps up, Collins might develop a bigger headache than Dwyane Wade.
Reaching the playoffs was supposed to be a reward for a well-done Sixers season, a celebration of youth, a sign that maturity is finally kicking in. As fate would have it, they were thrown to the fire, make that the Heat, a team that, like the Sixers, is also coming together. Just on another level.
They've played eight quarters of basketball in the series, and the Sixers have shown swagger in maybe two. Unlike in Game 1, they didn't leave a mark at all in Game 2, or create any intrigue, or give anyone an idea that this series will reach into next week. Miami led by 28 in a game they won, 94-73, and controlled from the get-go.
"They jumped on us and we could never get up," said Collins.
The problem for Philly is simple: The Sixers' strength is also the Heat's strength. There really isn't anything here the Sixers can exploit. Quickness, defense, it's all covered by Miami, and then some.
That's not all. The Heat have closers and true superstars, which are necessary this time of year. The Sixers? Well, they're still working on it. That's why they're the Philadelphia 2014ers, because their time is about three years away.
They definitely had that happy-to-be-here glazed look in their eyes for Game 2. They shot 20 percent in the first quarter, never responded to an aggressive start by Miami, and never fought their way back into the game. The Sixers aren't a high scoring team by any stretch; against a defensive team like Miami, they struggle mightily. They only scored 73 points. The Big Three of the Heat combined for 64.
"If we don't run, it'll be difficult to beat this team," said Collins.
When the Sixers are stripped of their transition baskets and forced to get their points from the outside, their biggest flaw is exposed. They're not a solid half-court team. Their front line combined for 10 points, no thanks to Joel Anthony, the gangly Heat center who blocked three shots and negatively influenced others.
Plus, there's the ongoing issue of Lou Williams' recovery from a bad hamstring that caused him to sit five games in April. He missed 7 of 8 shots in Game 2.
"I'm not myself," he said. "Dealing with a hamstring is not an easy thing. I'm trying to do something in two-three days that takes guys two-three weeks."
The Sixers' two leading scorers aren't helping much. Elton Brand was outscored by Chris Bosh 21-3 in Game 2, while Andre Iguodala, whipped from guarding LeBron James and Wade, has four baskets in two games.
"I haven't had an open shot all series," said Iguodala.
Perhaps had the Sixers drawn the Celtics, they would've been able to use their speed and quickness and youth to a better advantage against someone older and sluggish. Or had they faced the Bulls, don't you think they would've at least been as persistent and pesky as the Pacers? Instead, Philly pulled the short straw and got the Heat, who beat them 3-0 during the season, who are a grown-up version of Philly. The playoffs are all about matchups and this one is about as bad as it gets for the Sixers, because Miami is who Philly wants to be someday.
"They play great defense, a terrific defensive team," said Collins. "Their spacing, ball movement, they're unselfish and tough to defend."
The series is off to Philadelphia, and you wonder if the notoriously tough-to-please city has already turned its attention to the Flyers' playoff run or the Phillies and their ace-heavy pitching staff. The Heat won more road games than anyone in the East and certainly saw more hostile buildings (Cleveland?) than what the Wells Fargo Center can possibly muster Thursday and Sunday.
The Sixers have one last chance: either grow up quickly, or go out quickly. It's not about giving Miami a series anymore, and never was. For now, a game will do.
Shaun Powell is a veteran NBA writer and columnist. You can e-mail him here and follow him on twitter. The views on this page do not necessarily reflect the views of the NBA, its clubs or Turner Broadcasting.
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