Sixers are aware that their road is about to be bumpier
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.
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.