MIAMI, Fla. — Maybe the best thing to do is just listen. Sure, we could dive into the details of what the Sixers accomplished on the court on Saturday afternoon. We could take a look back at all of the moments that exemplified the toughness, the resilience, the edge with which they played. The shots, the scuffles, the defensive stands.
Show, don’t tell, the old writers’ maxim goes. Yet when it is a future Hall of Famer who is doing the telling, sometimes it is better just to sit back and listen.
“They’re special,” Dwyane Wade said after the Sixers took a 3-1 lead in this best-of-seven first round series with a 106-102 win at AmericanAirlines Arena on Saturday. “They put the right team together. I’ve said that multiple times.
“Ultimately, sometimes the playoffs becomes too big for certain guys, or some guys don’t know how to match the intensity of the playoffs, or whatever the case may be. They play that way already. They already play to that intense level. They have an edge to them, and I think this series has given everybody a little more edge as well because of the physicality of the series.”
There was a heartfelt respect evident in his voice as he sat behind the microphone. Wade had spent a considerable portion of the previous three hours doing everything in his power to keep his team afloat. The Sixers had entered the day having won two of the series’ first three games, adapting on the fly to withstand the ferocious defensive effort that Miami had unleashed on them starting in Game 2. The pummeling continued in Game 4, and the Heat again looked poised to capitalize on the Sixers’ inexperience, forcing 17 turnovers in a first half that they had led throughout. Late in the second quarter, the animosity that had been percolating between the two teams nearly bubbled over when Robert Covington sent Goran Dragic skittering face first across the court with a body after he’d been fouled on a fastbreak. James Johnson, who had been trailing on the play, objected to the treatment of his teammate, and Ben Simmons objected to Johnson’s objection, and those two players ended up face-to-face as a kerfuffle ensued, with the day’s first batch of double technicals summarily assigned.
For three quarters, it was a scrum. In the fourth, talent began to prevail. The Sixers opened the period with a 13-2 run to seize control of the game with a 92-85 lead. Most impressive, though, was the way they answered each time Wade attempted to rewrite their story. He scored 10 points in the game’s final four-and-a-half minutes, but for one of the few times in his career, his opponent did not blink. After Wade’s layup cut the Sixers lead to 100-99, Simmons answered with a ferocious driving dunk. After Wade hit a fadeaway turnaround with 43 seconds to cut it to one, JJ Redick answered with a 19-foot jumper to push it back to three.
“Every time you make a mistake, they make you pay,” Wade said. “Whether it was getting offensive rebounds, whether it was a miscommunication half-court wise where they were able to get Simmons for the dunk or JJ for the shot, we’ve gotta do a better job, and we didn’t. This is the kind of team where they don’t let you off the hook. You make one mistake, you take your foot off the gas for one second, they make you pay.”
This was the 176th postseason game of Wade’s illustrious career. Tuesday’s Game 5 in Philly could be his last. On Saturday, he said he did not want to talk about his future, about the possibility that he had just played his last game in the arena where he’s spent 13-and-a-half of his 15 NBA seasons. But he sounded convinced that the Eastern Conference will soon belong to the Sixers.
“This is a very good team,” Wade said after “Outside of matching the energy that we play with, they execute very well, they are very well coached, and they have a lot of talent at a lot of different positions. This is definitely one of the best first-round series that I’ve ever played in, (the best) first-round opponent.”
It remains to be seen how far they can go this season. With the Celtics missing their top two players and LeBron James and his Cavaliers down 2-1 in their series against the Pacers, the Sixers’ opening in the East may be as wide as it will be for the foreseeable future. Their youth makes it hard to envision a Finals run, but the same could have been said about everything else they’ve accomplished this season.
“They’re a very good team,” Wade said. “I can’t say anything negative about them at all.”