Written by: Ray Hagan (@rayhagan19)
I wrote a column a few weeks back, not encouraging the 76ers to tank, but hoping the wheels fell off. I still feel that for this team having a lottery pick would do more good long-term than this playoff run. So how is it that even though they surpassed expectations I still feel regret, and emptiness at the loss?
This was a team that I thought would lose round 1 to Chicago. It's the same team that I was certain was done after they choked away game 1 in Boston. Even as they took a split in Boston I was sure the series was over when the older, tired legs of The Celtics ran them out of their own gym in game 3. But this damn team kept bouncing back. They stole game 4 with an improbable comeback. Doing to Boston what Boston had done to them in game 1. With their backs against the wall in game 6 they kept driving to the basket time and time again...and they won. They forced a game 7. They were heading into Boston for game 7 with younger, and more fresh bodies. They had the momentum...and they'd shown in game 6 that Boston could not stop them if they kept going to the rack. So what did they do in game 7? They laid an egg. Every last 76er caught Josh Smithitis. Instead of using their athleticism they settled for jump shot after jump shot. They clanked free throws...and still they were in it!
Then it happened. The moment where I fully bought in. I didn't buy that the cosmos had a plan for the Sixers when Rose (sadly for basketball fans) tore his ACL in game 1 of the first round. I still didn't buy it when the injury to Noah pushed the balance firmly towards the Sixers in that first round series. But when Paul Pierce fouled out on his home floor in game 7 in a close game...now you've got me believing that this is for real! Yep, I bought in. I thought this was it. Here was the chance. No Pierce in crunch time. Bosh missing from The Heat in the next round maybe there was some strange destiny for this ragtag bunch.
It felt like the '93 Phillies. In that magical summer everything just came together. Now the Sixers were going to give fans another scrappy bunch to love. Only no one told them that. Certainly no one told Rajon Rondo. Just like that...they were down an insurmountable margin and the game was over. It's easy as a sports fan to handle failure when you expect it. For 10 games at the end of the season, even 6 in the first round, and 6 and 9/10s in the second round...I expected it. But for that brief moment...they made a believer out of me, and somehow my hopes were crushed. I love the Sixers for overachieving this year. I have hope for the future. But for right now, especially after what the Flyers did to me...I can't forgive the Sixers for making me believe, and then for wanting it less than I did.
They had the gameplan, they had the athleticism. What's worse is that the lost in the most anti-climactic fashion ever. They were so close to moving on to the next round, and they just didn't want it enough. What the Celtics showed is that you can't teach experience, heart, or knowing how to win. Maybe someday these Sixers will learn those things. I hope they do, because I don't ever want to feel this way again.
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