I'M JUST NOT sure how much more you can ask of the 76ers than what they gave last night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Coming home with a 2-0 deficit in their Eastern Conference playoff series, they responded exactly the way a young and seemingly overmatched team would against an opponent as formidable as the Miami Heat.

You wanted passion. The Sixers displayed it.

You wanted heart. The Sixers bled theirs out.

You wanted determination, courage, fight, composure, toughness. The Sixers had all of that and more.

It was a monumental effort by the Sixers that forced the Heat and its star trio of LeBron James, Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh to utilize every ounce of determination they could muster.

Still, the end result - the only thing that matters this time of the year - was that the Heat pulled out a 100-94 victory.

Sometimes the other team is just better, and no matter how much effort you give, it's not enough.

"It was the type of game we expected from them," Miami coach Erik Spoelstra said. "We knew it was going to be a high-energy game from them.

"We were not able to take control until the fourth quarter. There wasn't any panic. It was not pretty, it was not clean, but we found a different way to win, and that's all that counts."

Both sides insisted that this series wouldn't begin until one team won a road game, and with the Heat taking Games 1 and 2 in Miami, that had not happened.

Well, it happened last night.

The Sixers are down 3-0 in the best-of-seven series and Game 4 on Sunday looks to be little more than the closing act.

"The Miami Heat are a great team and we're supposed to be a speed bump for them," Sixers coach Doug Collins said. "But I'm stubborn as hell.

"I'll fight until there is no breath left in me. We've done that all season long. Miami is flying home on Sunday after the game, and we want to fly with them."

What is there to really say about this series concerning the Sixers?

When you're this much of an underdog coming in, and you're winless in three games, can it be about moral victories?

"No," Collins said. "I'm a moral person, but I don't believe in moral victories."

So then you just have to accept that Miami is so much better and unless the Sixers play virtually flawless in every aspect, they can't win a game.

The Sixers had 94 points and limited Miami to a respectable 45.6 percent shooting. But Miami had 20 offensive rebounds and 24 second-chance points.

The Sixers have gotten off to strong starts twice in this series, only to see Miami claw back and gradually assume control of the game.

Leading 75-73, the Sixers had two chances to increase the lead in the first minute of the fourth quarter. They didn't.

Then James, who had missed his previous three attempts from long range, sank a three-pointer that put Miami up, 76-75, at the 11:02 mark.

With 8:15 remaining, Wade made a layup that completed a 9-2 Miami run.

An 82-77 lead might not have looked insurmountable, but it was.

Miami pushed the lead to nine with just over 5 minutes remaining, and the Sixers, as has been their nature all season, tried to fight back.

But the Heat had enough answers to ward them off down the stretch.

"Absolutely, it's discouraging," said Sixers forward Elton Brand, who had a team-high 21 points. "It's encouraging in that we have young guys who don't give up.

"But we could have had two games. [Miami] made big plays and took them away from us."

The Sixers gave everything they had. It simply wasn't enough.

"I thought we played great," Collins said. "Our guys came out and responded. We made some mistakes that you just can't make against the Miami Heat.

"But as far as the effort, I told our guys the effort was great, but effort without sustained discipline of what we have to do, we can't have those kinds of breakdowns."

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