The 76ers survived the first test Wednesday night and move on to the next one now - winning the deciding game on the road Saturday - where the steps will be higher, the air thinner, and, presumably, the opponent fully engaged.
Doug Collins has talked a lot about playoff history as he has searched for the right motivational tools for his players. He wants to impart a sense of moment to his team, a feeling that it is in position to join a line that stretches back across the decades, either a line of exultant winners or a slightly longer line of dejected losers.
Since the team moved from Syracuse, the Sixers have been involved in a Game 7 a total of 11 times, winning five and losing six. On the road in Game 7, they are 1-5, with the lone win coming on a memorable afternoon in 1982 in the old Boston Garden when Andrew Toney scored 34 points in the conference championship game and the Celtics fans chanted "Beat L.A., Beat L.A." to the Sixers because they knew it would make them sound cool and classy and people would still talk about how cool and classy they were years later.
The Sixers, alas, did not Beat L.A., but they did beat Bird, Parish, and McHale in that Game 7, which was pretty impressive. The second-generation Big Three that the Sixers will face Saturday don't present as daunting a task since they were never quite that big, and since they appear to be shrinking as the series continues. On the other hand, the Sixers don't seem to have an Andrew Toney on the roster, and if they win, it probably won't be by strangulation but with their preferred method of death-by-a-thousand-paper-cuts.
So, those are the numbers and the history, and this is the point of the column where it is worth mentioning that it's all a load of hooey.
If we have learned anything about the current Sixers - other than their general disdain for getting to the free-throw line or making free throws once there - it is that numbers mean nothing when it comes to this team. Nothing.
Here's a good example. In the regular season, when the Sixers scored fewer than 90 points, their record was 2-18. That makes some sense. In the postseason, when they score fewer than 90 points, their record is 5-2. That makes no sense.
It makes no sense unless you are willing to recognize that the Sixers do not need to play good basketball to win. They just need to make the other guy play worse. They are very good at it, and the Celtics, who sometimes lack the initiative to kick the children from the porch, can be perfect foils for that philosophy.
"They're athletic. They're young. They're very fast. They play with a lot of energy. And it's very difficult for our guys," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I don't think people give enough credit to guys who play so hard defensively that you get stops. I don't see why that's an ugly thing."
Offensively, the Sixers still aren't playing well unless they get a lot of fastbreak points (which they didn't in Game 6), or get to the line and make free throws (which they did and didn't in Game 6), or find a hot hand from three-point range (which they didn't in Game 6).
They won on that ugly defense, helped by a decision to give Ray Allen his shots and hope he missed, preferring to pack the middle instead and keep the Celtics from straying inside for easy baskets. With a need for toughness inside, Elton Brand has returned as a major force and Thaddeus Young has all but disappeared. After averaging fewer than 16 minutes per game in the first four games of the series, Brand is averaging 32 minutes.
"You can't do much when you're sitting on the bench watching," Brand said. "Coach trusted me with some minutes and I gave it my all."
The adjustment away from perimeter defense could backfire if Allen makes shots in Boston or if point guard Rajon Rondo emerges from whatever cloud enveloped him Wednesday. But for the moment, the Sixers will stick with what is working.
It got them this far, to a Game 7, and maybe it will take them even further. "Beat Miami" doesn't have much of a ring to it and Celtics fans are kind of annoyed with their own team right now, so don't expect a lot of clever hospitality if the Sixers pull off the win. That was all a long time ago, and these Sixers would prefer something of their own to remember, anyway.
Bob Ford: 76ers in Game 7
Here is a look at how the 76ers have done in Game 7 over the years:
1965 Eastern Division finals: Loss at Boston, 110-109
1968 Eastern Division finals: Loss vs. Boston, 100-96
1971 Eastern Conference semifinals: Loss at Baltimore, 128-120
1977 Eastern Conference semifinals: Win vs. Boston, 83-77
1979 Eastern Conference semifinals: Loss at San Antonio, 111-108
1981 Eastern Conference semifinals: Win vs. Milwaukee, 99-98
1981 Eastern Conference finals: Loss
at Boston, 91-90
1982 Eastern Conference finals: Win
at Boston, 120-106
1986 Eastern Conference semifinals: Loss at Milwaukee, 113-112
2001 Eastern Conference semifinals: Win vs. Toronto, 88-87
2001 Eastern Conference finals: Win
vs. Milwaukee, 108-91
- Bob Ford
Contact Bob Ford at firstname.lastname@example.org, read his blog at www.philly.com/postpatterns, and follow @bobfordsports on Twitter.