It is the afternoon leading up to game 4 of the Philadelphia 76ers’ first round series against the Washington Wizards. Philadelphia leads 3 games to none. With the exception of the first half of game 1–a half in which MVP finalist Joel Embiid was forced to the bench after being whistled for a couple of questionable fouls–Philadelphia, the 1-seed, has
led dominated the 8-seeded Wizards. Through three games, the Wizards’ largest lead was five points. That came in the competitive first half of game 1. Since the inbound play to start the second half of that game, Philly has thoroughly controlled the series.
The Sixers have a chance to send the Wizards to Cancun for the summer on Monday night. You’ll hear the game’s iconic voices say that the close-out games are the hardest games of the season. Make no mistake, though. The Sixers, with the Wizards ostensibly pinned to their death bed, are not looking down on their opponent. Not until the clock stops.
“There’s no reason to be happy about where we are.”
The best player’s voice carries the most weight. After dismantling the Wizards in game 3 to go up 3-0 and put history overwhelming against Washington’s chances of making things competitive, Joel Embiid was less than interested in basking in his team’s chokehold over inferior competition. “There’s nothing to be happy about, the job’s not done,” Embiid said after the game 3 victory. “We got to close out the series, we gotta get one more win. Worry about the rest later. We gotta go. That’s our goal. We gotta take one game at a time. There’s no reason to be happy about where we are. We just want to take it step-by-step and make sure we don’t skip any and accomplish our goal.”
Doc Rivers echoed a similar message to his team after the victory, as well. “I didn’t say much. I just said, ‘Great job, and we’ve done nothing’,” Rivers said. “I’ve said that after every game. We’ve done nothing. So, we just got to keep marching, keep doing what we’re doing.”
In order to keep marching on, as Rivers puts it, the Sixers have to focus on the process behind completing the task at hand rather than worry about whether or not the result is achieved. “You can’t focus on the results anyway,” the head coach said. “You got to focus on what you’re doing at the time and then all the results will happen. You start focusing on what will happen, you’re not going to get it. You got to focus on doing your job.”
“They keep attacking, keep going. So, we gotta come prepared on Monday.”
Even though they’re adamant that they won’t be satisfied with disposing of the Wizards, the Sixers recognize there is a benefit to locking in and finishing the series in as few games as possible. “That [finishing the sweep] would be incredible,” star point forward Ben Simmons said after game 3. “Obviously, we want to do that [get some extra days to rest and fix issues]. We want to get the sweep so we can get some rest. But, it’s still a tough team. You never know what they’re gonna do every night, especially with Beal and Westbrook. They’re relentless. They keep attacking, keep going. So, we gotta come prepared on Monday.”
“Treat this like a game seven–a ‘win or go home’ situation–and let’s get it done.”
Now, just hours before game 4 tips off, the Sixers feel confident. But, more importantly–and perhaps by extension–they feel prepared. “Great vibe, but pretty focused and locked in,” rookie guard Tyrese Maxey said after Monday’s shootaround. “The vets, they’ve done a great job the entire season of just keeping us ready, keeping us locked in and keeping us focused on the task at hand. When we broke it in, Dwight was saying it’s like a game seven. Treat this like a game seven–a ‘win or go home’ situation–and let’s get it done.”
The Sixers–from coach to players–are saying all the right things. In a few hours, we’ll know if the actions speak as loud as the words.