Game five, on the road against a team with superior talent and lofty goals. Down 3-1 in a best-of-seven series. This is the game where the cream usually will rise to the top. This is the game where the clearly superior team will typically put its foot down and end the series emphatically. The Bulls did it last night against the Pacers. Will the Heat be able to do the same tonight against the Sixers?
There is no simple answer to that question. Right now, Miami has to be thinking, "We can take these guys, no problem." The Sixers played them tight in three of the four games, but Miami was able to turn it on down the stretch and win the first three. They're probably looking at game four as an anomaly. If they just come out and play their game, they should be able to finish Philly off without breaking a sweat. Of course, that's how they're feeling heading into the game. Who knows how they'll react if they don't get off to a quick start.
Dwyane Wade is battle tested. He's carried a team all the way to a championship, his resume in the big time has never been called into question. LeBron James, on the other hand, might just start looking back to his performance in the playoffs last season. LeBron was almost helpless in stopping his 61-win Cavs team drop three straight to the Celtics, and he honestly looked disinterested while nearly notching a quadruple-double in the deciding game six (8/21 from the floor, 19 boards, 10 assists, 9 turnovers). I think that performance was probably a huge contributing factor in "The Decision." He didn't want to be in the situation where he had to carry his team in the post season again. He wanted someone else to lean on. I think there's a good chance if the Sixers can hand with the Heat through the first half, or even build up a lead to take into the break, LeBron could start flashing back a little bit and I'm not sure how he'd handle that. Bosh is a complete wild card, and hopefully irrelevant if LBJ and Wade decide to turn this into an isolation game again.
For the Sixers' part, you have to wonder if the hunger will still be there. Will simply winning that one game satisfy them on some level, or will they be dying to get back to Philly for game six? Would they give anything for just one more game to play? If they come out with that mentality, and some confidence from having beaten them once and competing with them thrice, they've got a shot. If the Sixers act tonight like they did after clinching their playoff berth in the regular season, this one will be over early.
I'd love to tell you I'm confident we'll see a super-motivated Philly squad tonight, just like I'd love to tell you I'm pretty sure Miami will be over-confident (LeBron's breakfast quote from earlier today certainly makes it seem like they're already looking past the Sixers), but I have no idea what to expect. The only thing that's for sure is I'll be right here, glued to the TV, living and dying with every loose ball, missed jumper and thunderous dunk. Forty-eight more minutes, that's all they're guaranteed and that's all we're guaranteed. I hope they're enjoyable, one way or the other.
The tip is at 7pm. Game thread will land at 5:30.