Six­ers are aware that their road is about to be bumpier

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - FRONT PAGE - By Jack McCaf­fery jm­c­caf­fery@21st-cen­tu­ry­media.com @Jack­McCaf­fery on Twit­ter

CAMDEN, N.J. » As they waited to learn their sec­ond-round play­off op­po­nent, most of the 76ers did the usual and tried to cam­ou­flage their feel­ings.

Dario Saric, who pre­vi­ously re­vealed that he would not want to en­counter LeBron James in the post­sea­son, never plays that way. In­stead, be­fore the Mil­wau­kee Bucks and Bos­ton Celtics would a play Game 7 Sat­ur­day, he fig­ured it was just as easy to spill the truth.

“I’d be more for Mil­wau­kee,” Saric said, “be­cause we would have home-court ad­van­tage against them.”

That was real, as Brett Brown of­ten says. And what will hap­pen next for the Six­ers will be real, too. When the Celtics elim­i­nated the Bucks, 112-96, for a spot in the NBA’s East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals, it meant that the Six­ers had lost some­thing they’d worked hard to earn. They will not have that val­ued home­court ben­e­fit in the be­stof-seven … at least un­til they win a game in Bos­ton. Game 1 of the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals will un­fold Mon­day night at 8 in the TD Gar­den.

With that, Brown needed to be­gin a slight walk-back Sun­day, re­mind­ing his play­ers that only be­ing sched­uled for three games in their com­fort­able Wells Fargo Cen­ter is not a post­sea­son evic­tion no­tice.

“Just the no­tion that it’s a long se­ries,” Brown said, af­ter prac­tice at the train­ing com­plex. “It gets harder and harder, as it should. And the team no­tion, the to­geth­er­ness no­tion, those types of things in­ter­est me very much. And if we can stay bal­anced, if we can stay to­gether and not over­re­act to stuff, I think we’ll be in good shape.”

The Celtics won three of four from the Six­ers in the reg­u­lar sea­son, tak­ing one game each in Philadel­phia, Bos­ton and London. At 55-27, they were bet­ter than the 52-30 Six­ers and, thus, won that home-court prize. But that was be­fore a 16-game winning streak the Six­ers ended the reg­u­larsea­son on, while the Celtics lost four of their fi­nal six and were just 9-6 since March 11. That’s when su­per­star Kyrie Irv­ing in­jured his knee, re­quir­ing sea­so­nend­ing surgery.

While the Six­ers dis­missed Mi­ami in five in the first round, Bos­ton needed the full seven to ad­vance. But the Six­ers are aware that both se­ries sites will be loud enough to pro­vide a small home-team edge.

The Celtics were 27-14 in the Gar­den in the reg­u­lar sea­son. The Six­ers were 2219 on the road.

“It’s go­ing to be like play­ing at the Wells Fargo Cen­ter, as loud as it gets in the play­offs,” J.J. Redick said. “I’ve played against them in the play­off twice, in 2009 and 2010, and I still feel that they were as in­tense as any play­off games I have played in my ca­reer. The en­vi­ron­ment and the at­mos­phere was as loud as I have seen in my ca­reer. That’s what we’ll all ex­pect.”

As for what oc­curs on the floor, not in the stands, the Six­ers can ex­pect a sub­stan­tially tougher chal­lenge than the one they re­ceived from Mi­ami. Even with­out Irv­ing and Gor­don Hay­ward, who missed all but the first 5:15 of the sea­son af­ter break­ing his leg, the Celtics re­main le­git­i­mate cham­pi­onship con­tenders. While Mi­ami had lit­tle op­tion

but to rough the Six­ers up to slow them down, Bos­ton, with the third-best de­fen­sive rat­ing in the NBA, has play­ers ca­pa­ble of de­fend­ing with­out gim­micks.

The Celtics have been known to at­tack cen­ters with un­usual dou­ble-team ro­ta­tions, which could be a chal­lenge to Joel Em­biid. And they are likely to sag on Ben Sim­mons, dar­ing him to shoot. Also, un­like Mi­ami, Bos­ton has an inside tough­ness that will make it more dif­fi­cult for Sim­mons to drive.

“How you are go­ing to score,” said Brown, when asked about his lead­ing con­cern. “They are an ex­cel­lent de­fen­sive team. And of­fen­sively, they have the abil­ity to re­ally bother you, be­cause they can shoot threes.”

The Six­ers tem­po­rar­ily lost their home-court ad­van­tage when they dropped Game 2 to the Heat. They quickly won it back, winning the next two in Mi­ami. Bos­ton is not Mi­ami. “They come out with a lot of edge,” Er­san Ilyasova said. “And they shoot well. For us to win there, we have to be sharp in ev­ery­thing we do.”

By the time Dario Saric clicked his TV off af­ter that Game 7 Sat­ur­day, it had be­come the Six­ers’ only op­tion.

CHRIS SZAGOLA — THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Ben Sim­mons, right, and the 76ers can ex­pect the go­ing to be a lot tougher against the Bos­ton Celtics in the East­ern Con­fer­ence semi­fi­nals than it was ver­sus Dwyane Wade and the Mi­ami Heat in the open­ing round of the NBA play­offs.

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