In the entire history of the NBA playoffs, there have been 130 instances of a team falling down 3-0 in the first three games of a series. Of those 130, only three have ever been brought to a game seven. And of those three games, no team has ever successfully reverse swept a series and advanced to the next round. Yet last week, I legitimately believed that the Philadelphia 76ers could be the first ones to accomplish the impossible.
But it was never supposed to be like this in the first place. The series shouldn’t have become that skewed to begin with. We were the red-hot Sixers, the unstoppable force that had only lost once in their last 20 games, with two young all-stars and great three-point shooting. We were supposed to breeze past the injured, battered down Celtics, who had just gone to game 7 with the coachless Milwaukee Bucks. They were missing their two best players, plus their third best player for game one of the series. Sure, they were hot at home, but we were supposed to make the finals and dethrone LeBron.
Unfortunately, not everything goes the way it’s supposed to go. The Celtics played the 76ers physically and smart, playing stifling perimeter defense and exploiting our biggest weaknesses: our lack of iso-basketball and shot creators, our 6-foot-10 point guard’s inability to shoot a jump shot, and our tendency to live or die by three-pointers and one-on-one post play. Brad Stevens coached the role-players on the Celtics to a marvelous game-plan, and the individual Celtic players stepped up big-time, and showed the entire world of sports that they weren’t to be messed with. After the Sixers dropped the first two on the road, and blew game three in overtime at home, everyone, including history, was saying the series was over.
Deep down, I probably knew we wouldn’t win either, but as a diehard fan, I believed we could battle through it. Game four was miraculous to watch, as we looked completely lost but muscled out a win anyway. And the heartbreaking loss in game five was unfortunate, but not completely unexpected. We played hard, but were simply outmatched in terms of gameplan and personnel. A 4-1 defeat was honestly the most we could have hoped for after dropping the first three games.
When the Sixers finally lost, and the final game concluded in Boston, I was heartbroken for a few hours. I couldn’t understand how this could have happened. I had completely forgotten that we had only won 20 games the previous year, we were expected to miss the playoffs, and we had ended up as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, winning a playoff series for the first time since Allen Iverson played on the team. I had forgotten to trust the process, instead concentrating on a perceived lack of results.
I stepped back from the situation, and, unable to sleep that night, started thinking about the future. Not only did the Sixers shoot abysmally from three-point range during the series, but our best player didn’t have full usage of his eyes, and our second best player was being seriously challenged for the first time in his career. I’m not making mistakes as to why we lost, but rather looking forward to the things we have in the future.
Ben Simmons will continue to develop into an absolutely unstoppable monster, especially if he adds a consistent jump shot to his basketball arsenal. Joel Embiid made it through an entire season without being injured (except for the freak eye accident), and will begin actually begin practicing with the team for the first time during this coming season. Markelle Fultz will regain his form and come onto the court as a weapon who can create his own shot and open up our offense. We’ve got a first round pick in the top 10 this year, and an enormous amount of cap space to attract a massive free agent talent for the team. Plus, we’ve got other developing players and eurostashes that could end up paying massive dividends, and the team’s future looks preposterously bright. The Sixers could legitimately become an NBA dynasty.
When you take things like that into perspective, a disappointing loss like the one handed to us by the Celtics is difficult to sustain at first, but it becomes easier when you consider what the future may hold. In the moment after we lost, I had forgotten the unstoppable mantra that I should’ve kept in mind the entire time. Trust the process.
Contact Bobby Pragada at bpragada ‘at’ stanford.edu.