Sixers stay on pace, take Celitcs in six
CAMDEN, N.J. » The Sixers envision an Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series that is fast and free, clean and fluid, smooth and efficient.
The Boston Celtics? They don’t.
So let the best-of-7 Sixers-Celtics 2nd-round series begin Monday at 8 in the TD Garden. And let that game-within-thegame unfold. First team to successfully force its preferred pace four times gets to play for a conference championship. A series outlook:
What the Sixers must do on offense: The same things they did in in winning 20 of their last 21. They must use their speed, and more significantly the speed with which they move the ball, to make the Celtics stumble into mismatches.
With Ben Simmons generating energy from the point well before the ball even enters the frontcourt, and then with his ability to find open jump shooters or cutters, the Sixers typically have their chances to score. If J.J. Redick, Robert Covington, Marco Belinelli, Dario Saric and Joel Embiid drain outside shots at their usual rate, the Celtics will break.
What the Celtics must do on offense: They have the ability to match the Sixers’ outside shooting, stroke for stroke. Though it may attempt to go big early to neutralize Embiid inside, Boston will not be opposed to a shooting contest, particularly because it can do that four times out of a scheduled seven in front of a legendarily supportive home crowd.
What the Sixers must do on defense: Stay patient as the Celtics take more time than most teams to find shots. Control the defensive glass, which they did well during their 16game winning streak. Be alert for long rebounds and, as they have been doing, win the most 50-50 opportunities.
What the Celtics must do on defense: Individually excellent man-to-man defenders, they must use their strngth to not allow the Sixers to roam. They must be there when shooters catch the ball. Unlike Miami in Round 1, they cannot get so frustrated by the Sixers’ speed that their only response is to turn rough. If they play off of anyone, it should be Simmons, an entertaining talent who cannot shoot from more than 10 feet away. It has been said that at some point in any NBA postseason, the point guard must make shots. Boston must turn Simmons into Exhibit A.
Intangibles: In Brett Brown and Brad Stevens, both teams are wellcoached. But without injured Kyrie Irving, the Celtics are far less than whole. At some point in the tournament, that will be evident. Both teams can enjoy a robust boost from their home crowd. The Sixers cannot allow this series to be reduced to one Game 7 in the Garden.
The pick: The Celtics needed all seven to subdue a Milwaukee team that the Sixers had behind by 41 in their final regular-season game. Boston will have had one day to prepare for the Sixers, who will enter the series rested and (relatively) healthy. That the Sixers quickly opened as three-point favorites in Game 1 was telling.
Boston will be a tougher assignment than Miami. But it does not have the personnel to match the Sixers in a long series. The Sixers are favored in Game 1 for a reason. Give them that one and don’t expect them to give that homecourt advantage back: Sixers in six.
Center Joel Embiid (21), and the 76ers get back in action Monday when then take on the Boston Celtics in Game 1 of the best-of-7 Eastern Conference semifinals. Jack McCaffery picks the 76ers in six games.