OFTENTIMES, when looking to juice up the crowd at the Wells Fargo Center, a scene from one of the "Rocky" movies will appear on the Jumbotron.
In staying with the boxing theme, the Miami Heat may have watched a replay of the "Rumble in the Jungle," the epic fight between George Foreman and Muhammad Ali in Zaire in 1974. In that fight, Ali employed his rope-a-dope tactic to tire out Foreman before delivering a knockout blow in the eighth round.
Throughout the first two games of this series, both Miami Heat coach Erik Spoelstra and 76ers coach Doug Collins have talked about taking the other team's best punch. In the first half of last night's Game 3 of the best-of-seven series, the Sixers threw haymaker after haymaker at the vaunted Heat, landing many.
Spencer Hawes, silent for Games 1 and 2, was as active as he's been in weeks; Elton Brand returned to his place of work offensively, which is 10-to-15 feet from the basket, and nailed his open shots; and Lou Williams seemed fully recovered from the hamstring injury that has plagued him most of the month, providing instant offense off the bench.
Throughout, the Heat absorbed, absorbed, absorbed. And when the Heat saw it was time, it conquered the moment, and ultimately, the Sixers, 100-94, to take a commanding 3-0 lead with a chance to close it out on Sunday at 1 p.m.
"I think Game 2 was an anomaly," Spoelstra said of his team's 21-point win. "You don't see that very much with the Sixers where you get a double-digit lead and you put them away. That never happens, particularly here at home. They're relentless. They don't stop coming at you. No matter who's in the game, they continue to put pressure on you and they did the same thing tonight."
For as long as they could, but eventually the forceful punches started to land. So exhausted were the Sixers that a 75-73 lead after three quarters quickly evaporated as they missed eight of their first 10 shots of the fourth.
Dwyane Wade paced the Heat with 32 points, 10 rebounds and eight assists, while LeBron James added 24, 15 and six. Chris Bosh (19) and Zydrunas Ilgauskas (10) also scored in double figures for Miami, which has beaten the Sixers in all six of their meetings this season.
Brand posted 21 points and 11 rebounds for the Sixers, while Jrue Holiday collected 20 points and eight assists. Williams scored 15 and Hawes added 12. Andre Iguodala had 10 points and 10 assists.
A point of disgust for Collins had to be the fact that Wade, James and Bosh, the heralded "Big Three," played a combined 124 minutes and were whistled for just two total fouls. The Heat went to the line 30 times to the Sixers' 19, but Collins wasn't going to talk about it.
"You're not going to drag me down that road," the coach said. "I thought we took the ball to the basket hard."
Miami started the fourth quarter much in the same fashion as the Sixers did the game, when they opened a 9-0 lead. The Heat opened the fourth quarter with a 17-5 run to take its biggest lead of the night at 90-80.
Part of it was due to the Sixers' poor shooting, but mostly because the Heat got to where it wanted to be on the offensive end, grabbed offensive rebounds to extend possessions and put the ball in the hands of two of the best players in the world.
A two-point Sixers lead at the half was erased in the first minute, 16 seconds as the Heat rolled off six consecutive points. A timeout by Collins righted the ship as his team rattled off 12 straight points and staved off the Miami flurry. But the Heat soon scored eight in a row, highlighted by a fastbreak in which James juked defenders with behind-the-back then through-the-legs dribbling, finally finding Wade cutting to the basket for a demonstrative slam.
Soon, the fourth quarter rolled around and it appeared, like Ali, the Heat just had another gear that the Sixers couldn't match, and now they are in a must-win situation to extend their season.
"I look at the big picture," Collins said. "[Miami] shot 45 percent from the floor with 20 offensive rebounds. That's the game. Twenty offensive rebounds, 24 points off offensive rebounds and 48 points in the paint. There was nothing wrong with our offense."
And for much of the night, there wasn't too much wrong with their defense, either. It was just a case of some mental lapses here and there and the fact that three of the opposing jerseys bore the names Wade, James and Bosh.
"We turned the ball over a couple of times and they turned that into transition," Brand said. "We don't do that and this is our ballgame. We work so hard to get good shots and try to convert, then they make things happen so easily at the offensive end. That's tough."
No tougher than the task at hand for the Sixers.
"We've got to win Sunday," Collins said. "I don't know what else to say. But I'll keep fighting to my last breath."
Dwyane Wade appeared to take an elbow to his upper left arm midway through the second quarter. He didn't miss any time, but was wearing a heavy wrap on it whenever he was on the bench the rest of the night . . . LeBron James went down on the floor on his way to the Miami bench with 58.9 seconds left in the game, apparently struggling with leg cramps. He said he was OK after the game.
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