It only took their second game of the NBA playoffs for the 76ers to encounter their first dose of resistance this postseason.
After cruising to a 1-0 lead over the Miami Heat in the Eastern Conference first-round series, the Sixers were humbled at home in a Game 2 loss. They then had to battle through games more like barroom brawls to win two on the road. In Game 5, the Sixers are expecting another unflinching effort from a Heat squad that isn't backing down despite facing a 3-1 deficit.
"You don't have to be a wise man to know what is about to happen," coach Brett Brown said, "What style of play they are going to try to play, especially when they are going to go home if they are unable to find a win. We understand that."
A win Tuesday at Wells Fargo Center would advance the Sixers to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the first time since 2012. They would await the winner of the Boston Celtics-Milwaukee Bucks series, which is tied at two games apiece. The conference semifinal round of the playoffs is scheduled to begin Monday or May 1. However, a series could begin this weekend if both teams advance early.
Brown will tell you the key to closing out any series is making things hard for your opponent.
"Everybody is trying to break somebody's spirit," he said. "You know it is always the same thing."
But that is true for both teams. The Heat have nothing to lose. They're also confident they can win at Wells Fargo Center after their 113-103 Game 2 victory on April 16. Brown knows what Heat coach Erik Spoelstra's message to his team will be.
"They are going to live in a really isolated, zoomed-in world of, 'Let's just win a game, ' " Brown said. "We won a game last time we were here. And just come home and figure it out. You can see it when you study 3-1 series."
That's what Brown spent time doing this weekend. He said he found players and coaches are mindful of different things while studying game tape involving teams with 3-1 leads. His No.1 priority is paying attention to defense, with the discipline of team basketball within the offense being a close second.
However, the coach declined to disclose what he was specifically watching for in the tape.
"My intention is not to speak anything into existence," Brown said. "It is all about trying to help the team win. We want to get better. We are going to."
Turnovers and three-point shooting were the negatives in Saturday's 106-102 Game 4 victory.
The Sixers committed 27 turnovers with 24 coming during the first three quarters. They also shot 22.6 percent (7-for-31) on three-pointers.
But the Sixers are going into Game 5 with the mind-set that they're going to take Miami's best shot. Then they'll plan accordingly from there.
"I also think we have a lot of room to improve and we can play a lot better," JJ Redick said. "Some of that is their pressure, their defense, their physicality. Some of that is just us, and hopefully making some adjustments, especially offensively with the turnovers."
Despite the Game 2 loss, the Sixers expect to have a huge home-court advantage. They are 25-2 at the Wells Fargo Center since Jan. 1. The loud, sellout crowd is expected to be a couple of decibels higher with Joel Embiid making his first home playoff appearance.
The all-star center participated in the two games in Miami, a debut that came after he was sidelined 10 games (two playoff, eight regular season) after suffering an orbital bone fracture near his left eye on March 28.
"I'm [going to] make it as exciting as I can," Embiid said, "but at the same time, it's about getting a win. And I am still getting used to the goggles and the mask and everything."
Embiid's protective eyewear, a gray mask made out of carbon and polycarbonate that features a protective lens, is stronger than your typical mask. Embiid said he will have to wear it for about eight weeks, until his orbital bone fully heals.
"Hopefully it gets better," he said of wearing the mask. "But I don't think I'm going to get used to it. So [Tuesday] will be a good time to try to build on it and get used it."
Embiid and the Sixers also think Tuesday would be a good time to end the series.