The Philadelphia 76ers hadn’t been close to the Miami Heat for a while. The Sixers got blown out each time they faced the Heat last season, got thumped on Feb. 23 and ran out of gas in the fourth quarter on March 8. But on March 13, the Sixers scared the Heat just like they did in their 2011 playoff series, despite losing like they did back then.
The Sixers’ 98-94 defeat was the closest they came to knocking off the Heat in some time. It was reminiscent of their playoff series two years ago, when Philadelphia frequently pushed Miami deep into the fourth quarter. And like in those games, the Heat still had enough to win at the end.
Back in 2011 and 2012, the Sixers were the definition of a “close but no cigar” team. They went to the playoffs, challenged elite clubs like the Heat and Boston Celtics, but never quite got over the hump. This was frustrating, yet it was a step up from what Philadelphia has become this season.
The Sixers would kill to be a “close but no cigar” squad again, instead of a last place team on the verge of total collapse. The failure of the Andrew Bynum trade and of everyone else after the All-Star break has destroyed Philadelphia’s progress in the short and long term.
Unless the Sixers can salvage things with Bynum or find another star to replace him, they won’t get back to the levels of 2011 and 2012 for some time. As such, the thriller against the Heat on March 13 was a welcome blast from the past, when it wasn’t so shocking to see the Sixers scare the elite. Unfortunately, the game followed the same old pattern of Philadelphia falling short when it counted.
The Sixers fought the Heat hard in LeBron James, Dwayne Wade and Chris Bosh’s first playoff series together. Last night, the last place Sixers almost stopped the Heat from becoming the fifth team in NBA history to earn a 20-game winning streak. In a way, that is as impressive as anything Philadelphia did in the last two seasons -- but the disappointing ending was still the same.