BOSTON - It's never been done before. In case you were not aware - and yes, we know you're all aware - no team in NBA history has ever been down, 3-0, in a playoff series and come back to win. It's happened in baseball. It's happened in the NHL. But for the NBA, 3-0 is still a playoff death knell.
That's what the Sixers are facing. Philadelphia stayed alive with a Game 4 win to bring its conference semifinal series against Boston to 3-1, and now the Sixers will attempt to navigate the rest of this series, with Game 5 on Wednesday night at TD Garden. But they're still looking at what conventional wisdom calls an impossible task, something that's never been done before in history: rallying to a win a playoff series after trailing, 3-0.
Do the Sixers have a chance? We turned to a guy who knows a little about overturning history: UMBC coach Ryan Odom, whose team pulled the biggest shocker in NCAA history this March, becoming the first No. 16 seed to beat a No. 1 seed when his Retrievers toppled Virginia.
"Can they do it?" Odom said on Wednesday morning. "Yeah, they can do it. I mean, certainly. The way they play together, they have passion and clearly, they have talent. They have young talent and a good mix of some veterans in there that have been through it. A guy like J.J. Redick, he has played a lot of ball in his time. I don't see why they can't."
One of the keys to his team's upset, Odom said, was avoiding discussion of the monumental task they were undertaking, or at least to minimize the chatter. As his team was preparing to play Virginia, there was little conversation about the long and depressing history of No. 16 seeds in the tournament, other than to say, "Wouldn't that be really cool to be the first?"
"If you put too much emphasis on it, you can make it bigger than it really is," Odom said, "and you want to avoid that as a coach, at least I do as a coach, and I want my players to avoid that. I don't want the game to become too big. Because then, emotions get into play and you can get out of character. Trying to make sure everybody stays within their role and does what their job is, you have a better chance for success - minimizing the importance of it, the ramifications of it."
Of course, Sixers center Joel Embiid wore a T-Shirt proclaiming "History Will be Retweeted" after the Sixers' Game 4 win, which pretty much explodes the notion of de-emphasizing the magnitude of the task. Alas.
But after UMBC knocked off Virginia, star guard Jairus Lyles told reporters, "We knew we could play with them before the game." He played that game against Virginia with a clear amount of swagger, scoring 28 points on just 11 field-goal attempts. Odom said a certain confidence level helps in these situations.
"I'm not a rah-rah coach," Odom said, "but I coach confidently. I am a guy who, from an offensive perspective, I want them to believe that even if they miss three shots in a row, that the next shot is going down. That's my mentality, that's how I played as a player, my coach did that for me. So I try to do that with my players. I think that's what (Lyles) meant there."
It helps, too, to set reasonable goals. UMBC had already shown itself it could overcome long odds when it beat Vermont, which had lost just one conference game in two seasons, for the America East title. Similarly, the Sixers already have one playoff series win under their belts, and closed the season on a 16-game winning streak. What's so hard about coming up with a four-game winning streak now?
"Did any one of us, going into that game, say, 'We're definitely winning this game?'" Odom said. "Heck no. We knew we were paying the best team in the country on both sides of the ball. That's a daunting task. But you can cut it down to size.
"Our goal was to be in the game, that was our goal. Be in the game and have a chance to win it... And we were by the end of the half. At that point, we felt we can play with them."
The Sixers have one game down. A win Wednesday night, and they'd be halfway to NBA history. It's still a longshot, and Odom acknowledged the Celtics have been a very tough team this postseason.
"Obviously, they're facing an amazing coach in Brad Stevens, the players are playing confidently for the Celtics," he said. "It's pretty neat to see, the Celtics lose two top guys, their two best players, and they're still right there to win it and make the East finals."
But don't count out Philadelphia. We've seen history made on the basketball court already here in 2018. Maybe the Sixers can do it again - as long as they don't think of it that way.
"We did not set out to make history," Odom said. "We set out to win a game. The more you simplify it, the better chance for success you have."