76ers refuse to quit down 2-0 to Miami
No one rooted for the 76ers like Doug Collins.
When they struggled early, he kept the faith.
When they shined, no one was prouder.
In his first season out of the broadcast booth and back on the bench in Philadelphia, Collins' criticisms were gentle, and his pride was genuine.
So a few eyebrows were raised when Collins issued his most overt - and bleak - analysis yet after a Game 2 blowout loss against the Heat: The 76ers simply aren't good enough to win on Miami's best day.
''If they're playing great, they're a better team,'' Collins said after the game. ''OK? If they're playing on top of their game, they're a better team. ... But when they come out tonight and defend the way they did ... it's going to be very difficult for us to beat them.''
Game 2 highlighted just how difficult the rest of the series could be for the Sixers.
Miami took a 2-0 lead in the Eastern Conference first-round series with a 94-73 victory that was never close. The Sixers finished with their second-lowest playoff scoring total in the last 56 years.
The 76ers' starters were outscored 41-9 in the opening 24 minutes and didn't have a starter reach double figures until 3:49 remained in the third quarter.
On Tuesday, Collins sounded more upbeat after a late-afternoon practice. He's not worried just yet about winning the series. He's just focused on a Game 3 win Thursday in front of the home crowd.
Collins declined to rehash his postgame remarks.
''I knew you'd run with that. What do you want me to say?'' Collins said.
Asked on a follow-up what the 76ers could do to throw the Heat off their game, he said, ''Well, we were within one with 1:07 to go in the first game.''
And that was that.
The 76ers did get as close as 88-87 with 2:23 left in Game 1, but the Sixers never took the lead and the Heat held on to avoid the upset.
Miami led Game 2 wire-to-wire.
''Last night, I honestly believe our poor shooting was debilitating,'' Collins said. ''If you keep getting the shots and can't make them, it takes a lot out of you.''
Forward Elton Brand knows his coach still has their back.
''Coach has been in this game 40 years, so I know he believes we can win,'' Brand said.
The Sixers played more like the team that started 3-13 than the one that reversed course and climbed as high as sixth in the East. Their starters were outscored by the Heat's first five 76-29 and the Sixers shot 34 percent for the game.
More than anything, the series has shown just how far the Sixers have to climb to get to Miami's elite level.
''It has, it has,'' Brand said. ''Game 2, we're looking at it as an aberration. But it does show how much work we have to do and how certain things in the regular season we kind of let slip because we were winning games.''
No Sixer saw their offense baked to crisp in Miami more than Andre Iguodala. Iguodala, their top perimeter defender and playmaker, scored only nine points total in the first two games. He averaged 14.1 points and had three triple-doubles during the regular season.
Beating LeBron James, Dwyane Wade, and Chris Bosh is tough enough. Trying to win a series with Iguodala posting numbers reserved for the last man off the bench will make it impossible for the Sixers.
''Looking at the tape, I think we saw some things with Dre that we think can help him a little bit,'' Collins said. ''Lot of it is our spacing on the floor.''
Whatever the formula, Iguodala has to find his stroke - fast. The Sixers are in serious trouble and history is against them.
Miami has never lost a series after winning the first two games (6-0), and the Philadelphia franchise is winless in 16 tries after falling into an 0-2 postseason hole.
Only 14 teams have won after losing the first two games of a best-of-seven NBA series.
''Ah, that's statistics,'' Collins said, dismissing a question about the lopsided stat. ''I want to win Thursday. I'm not going to get into NBA statistics. Thursday.''
The Sixers talked in generalities about how they can play better moving forward. Push the ball into the paint. Tougher defense. Hope a rowdy home crowd - limited tickets are still available - can give them an edge.
But none of it can realistically rally the Sixers. Brand even acknowledged as much when explaining what the Sixers have learned about themselves this series.
''Just learning what's a good shot, what's a good play to make, how to play together,'' Brand said. ''We're learning who's going to come with it and how we're going to get some wins in this series.''
How to play together? Hard to believe after a preseason, an 82-game season and two playoff games that's a concern.
The 76ers opened the season at home against the Heat.
They just might end it there against them.