After two games of the Eastern Conference semifinal round between the Sixers and Boston Celtics, we know that Boston's wealth of experience gives them the edge at the end of close games and that the Sixers' youth and energy clearly tips a tight contest in their favor.
In other words, after the teams traded one-point wins in the opening salvo of the series, we don't know much yet, but we know close games are probably here to stay.
"Everybody always focuses on the last play of the game, but that's not really what games come down to. It's everything else that happens before, too," Doug Collins said.
Coaches are sensitive to that point, because the final moments of games are where second-guesses live. It's easy to pick apart a decision about when to foul or when to try a three-pointer. What's hard is figuring out a 48-minute scheme that gets your team to those final seconds with a chance to win.
Collins and Boston's Doc Rivers are more than capable of that task, and they have teams that can be either manipulated (Sixers) and massaged (Celtics) toward the finish line. After that, it's up to the bounce of the basketball or the capricious sound of the whistle.
That's how narrow this series appears to be. Whether the Celtics are descending to meet the Sixers or whether the Sixers are ascending to reach the level of the Celtics hardly matters. It is probably some combination of those, as Boston ages before our eyes like Dorian Gray's portrait, and the Sixers seem to be leaving behind their awkward teenage years.
The only factor that could really change the close nature of the series would be if Boston regains its normal shooting touch. The Sixers are playing pretty much the way they usually play at both ends of the court, but the Celtics are way off on their shooting percentages, particularly from behind the three-point line.
Their inaccuracy is out of character, but that is the real specialty of the Sixers when they play well - they make the other guys play out of character. Normally, the Sixers are good at limiting the three-point shooting percentage of the opposition. In this series, with Boston often going to a small lineup, the Sixers have been even better because they have quicker, more agile defenders on the floor who can really cover the perimeter.
Still, Boston should shoot better at some point, although that will require fresher legs than the Celtics have shown, and there's no guarantee of that. Playing the first four games every other day was "the worst possible situation for us," Rivers moaned.
Generally for the Sixers, playing without a lot of practice and instruction time isn't good, either. They have followed along with Collins so far, and managed to get a road split despite not getting their transition game going at all, which is usually a killer for them. They wore down the Celtics as much as possible, hung around until the end, got the bounce once and didn't get it the other. Now the series moves to the Wells Fargo Center for two games and the Celtics would happily accept the same split result.
"Being in their building down there really isn't going to affect us," Boston's Ray Allen said. "It's all about how we play. I don't worry about where we play."
That's because Boston has been this way before, losing tough games at home, winning tough games on the road. The venue isn't the obstacle. Just to prove that anything can happen anywhere, Boston center Kevin Garnett was called for an illegal screen with 10 seconds left in Game 2 and the Celtics down by three.
Usually in that situation, particularly in the offensive team's arena, particularly when the offender is a 14-time all-star, the officials will swallow the whistle. That happened in Game 1 when Garnett wiped out Evan Turner as Rajon Rondo shook loose to run out the clock. It didn't happen in Game 2 when Garnett nearly dislocated the shoulder of Andre Iguodala trying to free Paul Pierce for a tying three-pointer.
It was actually the second illegal screen on the play for Garnett, who also swiped at Jrue Holiday as Allen came around the corner first, preceding Pierce like a car going through a dangerous intersection.
"I wasn't fond of it, at all," Rivers said of the foul call. "Listen, if you're going to tell me that Kevin was the only one moving in picks tonight, then I'll live with that. But he clearly was not the only one."
There is a difference between a subtle hip check and what Garnett usually gets away with, however, but now we are drifting into the realm of perception, which seldom decides basketball games.
"I just thought in that situation, you let the players decide the game," Garnett said. "But if he felt like that was an illegal pick, then that's what it is."
Now, that's perspective, which is easier to come by early in a tough series rather than later. If the same play occurs in Game 7, we'll really have something to talk about.
In the meantime, if the Sixers can get their running game in gear, they have a chance to win one easily. The same is true for the Celtics if they regain their normal shooting touch. What the first two games of this series have suggested, however, is that the forecast will continue to reflect what these teams can't do rather than what they can. It probably won't get any prettier, either.
We already know it can't get much closer.