The sweep for the Heat was 95 seconds away. Miami held a six-point lead, had The Big Three on the court and a bevy of clutch plays behind them.
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All the 76ers had was their unwavering belief.
When they told Doug Collins in the huddle late in the game, ”We’re going back to Miami,” his reply was a simple one.
”I’ll be there with you,” said Collins, the Sixers coach.
Lou Williams proved the Sixers right, hitting the go-ahead 3-pointer from the top of the arc over a lunging Dwyane Wade with 8.1 seconds left that lifted Philadelphia to an 86-82 win over the Heat on Sunday and avoided a sweep.
Sweet Lou, indeed!
His 3 came 28 seconds after Jrue Holiday stunned Wade with a 3 that sliced the deficit to one. It was all part of a game-ending 10-0 run that sent nearly 20,000 fans into a frenzy – and the Sixers on a surprise trip back to Florida.
Game 5 is Wednesday in Miami.
”D-Wade gave me a little room and I was able to knock it down,” Williams said. ”We’ve always been a team that fought, all the way until the end. I just wanted to give us an opportunity to win the basketball game.”
Wade’s tip-in with 1:35 left put the Heat up 82-76. Miami had followed the formula of its Game 1 and Game 3 wins. The Heat trailed by double-digits in the first quarter, only to storm into the lead on the backs of Wade, LeBron James and Chris Bosh and take over down the stretch.
The 76ers still may eventually lose this series.
Just not Sunday.
”If you have faith, you have hope. And if you have hope, you have life,” Collins said.
The Sixers kept the resolve they’ve had since they turned a 3-13 start into the seventh seed in the Eastern Conference. The Sixers staggered down the stretch and won for only the second time since April 2.
Williams’ celebration was muted. He simply turned around and calmly walked back to a delirious huddle as if he expected to swish the winner all along.
”That shot right there didn’t beat us,” Wade said.
What Wade meant was, take a closer look at the stat sheet to find the numbers that truly did in the Heat. They shot 39 percent; made 5 of 23 3-pointers; scored 16 bench points; and, again, trailed big early.
”We’ve proven all year long that we were able to close those types of games out,” Heat coach Erik Spoelstra said. ”We were not able to tonight.”
Williams and Evan Turner led the Sixers with 17 points each. Andre Iguodala added 16 points, and Elton Brand had 15 points and 11 rebounds.
James scored 31 points for the Heat and Wade had 22. Bosh scored 12 points and had two blocks late in the game that seemed to seal the win for the Heat.
James, Wade and Bosh put the ”big” in Big Three for most of the game. For Bosh, it was the two blocked shots on the same possession with Miami holding a late two-point lead. He blocked Williams’ layup and swatted Turner’s short jumper.
On Philadelphia’s next possession, James blocked Turner’s shot.
James hit a step-back jumper for an 80-76 lead.
The Heat, who went on a 22-2 run in the second quarter, appeared in control.
Not for long.
Wade and James both missed baskets in the final minute that could have thrust the Heat back into it.
Wade misfired on a 13-footer after Holiday’s 3 and the Sixers snared the rebound. With the Sixers up four, James drove and missed a 6-footer with 3.8 seconds left.
Bosh said the Heat would have to play with more trust in each other when scores are close in crunch time.
”We’re going to have to actually do it when it counts most,” Bosh said.
Collins was aware the Sixers were viewed as nothing more than a minor speed bump for the Heat.
He told his team to play with freedom and joy with the season on the line. Brand even promised the Sixers would ”shock the world.”
Going eye-to-eye with the East’s elite, the Sixers may not have shocked the world, but at least South Beach.
Game 4 followed the familiar pattern of Games 1 and 3. Fired up from the start, the 76ers jetted to a 15-point lead in the first quarter. They made nine of their first 15 shots and went on a 13-0 run that at least made the idea of a return trip to Miami plausible.
The Sixers were no pushovers, either, providing some brief sparks when Thaddeus Young head-butted James Jones in front of Miami’s bench. Young responded after Jones shoved Turner as the crowd roared, anticipating a melee. Jones and Young were hit with technical fouls, but things were calm until Spencer Hawes and James jawed late in the fourth.
James brushed off a suggestion the Heat had intimidated the Sixers.
”Intimidation factor? We’re not trying to intimidate anybody,” he said.
The Heat usually bully their opponents simply on talent alone.
Wade showed how in the second quarter. He was 6 for 6 for 16 points in the quarter. He scored eight straight points, and his pull-up jumper that made it 43-41 gave Miami its first lead of the game.
He turned Miami’s 16-point deficit into a 47-46 lead at halftime.
It just wasn’t enough.
”We’re not going to hang our heads all the way to the ground about it,” James said.
Notes: The Sixers had no offensive rebounds and 13 defensive in the first quarter. … Collins won his first playoff game since he coached Detroit in 1996-97. … The Sixers were 5-12 during the season when they scored fewer than 90 points.