CHICAGO - It was Throwback Monday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia and the once-streaking Sixers, winners of 17 straight, found themselves on the wrong side of history.
Dwyane Wade, 36 and in the back nine of a Hall-of-Fame career, came off the bench and provided CPR to a Miami Heat team that drowned in a 130-103 Game One blowout in this Eastern Conference quarterfinal. The Flash flushed Miami's 113-103 Game Two triumph with a fabulously nostalgic 26-minute performance that netted 28 points on 11-for-16 shooting, seven rebounds, three assists and two steals.
Justise Winslow played defense like it was the 90s. Tough. Physical. Unyielding.
I don't know who coach Erik Spoelstra gave the game ball to after this series-tying win. Probably Wade, the face of the franchise for years except one when he flirted with the Chicago Bulls last season, a forgettable fling that ended in a messy divorce.
But if it were up to me, the game ball goes to Winslow, who only had two points and three rebounds but whose defense sparked the Heat's 33-14 game-turning second quarter run.
Through three years and 164 NBA games, Winslow, a 22-year old Duke alum, is a career 41 percent shooter, 31.4 percent from three and a languid 65 percent from the free-throw stripe. Winslow probably couldn't make a shot to save his life, but he can guard Fort Knox, defend a coup d'etat. So Ben Simmons was easy pickings.
Although he gave up three inches to the Philly's star point guard, Winslow is 15 pounds heftier at 225. In that pivotal second quarter where the Sixers made only 4 of 21 field goals, Winslow harassed Simmons into 1-for-4 shooting while coaxing an offensive foul. Winslow was in Simmons' face, breathing down his neck, shadowing him stride for stride and even served some spicy trash talk on the side. Unfortunately for Simmons, stalking is legal in the NBA court.
If the Brits had their Winter of Discontent in 1978, Simmons found his Winslow of discontent on Monday night.
Simmons still managed another near triple-double with 24 points, nine rebounds and eight assists in 39 minutes, but he was taken off his comfort zone. The Heat challenged his dribble, goaded him to shoot instead of drive to the hoop, and when he tried to post down low the help defense came faster than a 911 call. With Simmons contained, the Sixers' attack became predictable. And without its multi-dimensional element the offense looked like a boy band, One Direction.
The Sixers, armed with a dangerous cadre of shooters lurking in the wings, rediscovered some of their mojo in the second half and outscored the Heat, 61-57, to finish the contest with 40 makes in 96 field goal tries. But the die was already cast in that fateful second period.
"He got us all motivated. He got us inspired. He just gave. He gave, gave, gave. He didn't want nothing in return. He took his open shots, but other than that he was playing solid defense," James Johnson, who registered 18 points and seven rebounds, told The Miami Herald.
And while Winslow kept giving, the Sixers gave in and allowed the Heat to make 40 of 86 field goals (48.8 percent), including nine of 25 from long distance.
Still, the Sixers were too proud, too young and too good to just surrender homecourt advantage in this best-of-seven series, with the winner facing whoever comes out of the Cavaliers-Pacers battle.
Down 16 early in the fourth quarter, Dario Saric, who had 23 points, carried Philly to within 98-96 with 4:15 to go. But a 6-0 Miami counter-punch put the advantage safely back to eight, deflating the rally balloon.
NOT SO THREE-RRIFIC.. After making 18 triples in Game One, Philly had only seven in Game 2, a 33-point difference. J.J. Redick, who scored 28 in Game One, came back to earth in Game Two with 11 points on 4-for-13 shooting, including 1-for-7 from 3-land.
Marco Belinelli, who was feted for his 25-point Game One outburst, also regressed in Game Two, producing only 16 while missing 6-of-8 three-point attempts.
After shooting 64.3 percent from beyond the arc in Game One, the Sixers dropped to 19.4 percent in Game Two. No surprise here, the Heat, after all, are ranked fourth in the NBA in scoring defense.
Following Philly's loss, Joel Embiid, the other Sixers wunderkind, ranted on social media basically asking to be allowed to play in Game 3. He has been sidelined by an orbital bone fracture.
If Embiid does play in Game Three at the American Airlines Arena in Miami, it will be manna in heaven for the Sixers. Not only does he diversify Philly's attack with some 15 or so touches in the low post, he can also stretch Miami's defense because of his 3-point shooting prowess. Defensively, Embiid's length and shot-blocking instincts will trigger a myriad of problems for the Heat offense.
But that is a story line for another day.
Today is all about Wade's defiance to Father Time and Winslow's persistence on defense.