Six­ers stay on pace, take Celitcs in six

Daily Times (Primos, PA) - - SPORTS - Jack McCaf­fery Colum­nist

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.

JOE SKIP­PER - THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

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.

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