PHILADELPHIA — Now that the 76ers have washed their hands of their first-round opponent, the top-seeded Chicago Bulls, it's time to get ready for another mud bath as the team faces the Boston Celtics in the second round.
Fifth-seeded Boston advanced by beating the Atlanta Hawks, four games to two, to advance to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the fifth consecutive season.
The Sixers and Bulls produced one of the most offensively challenged series in the history of basketball, with the Sixers winning three games in which they shot less than 40 percent from the floor, twice when they scored fewer than 80 points. The average winning score for the victorious team in the final four games was 81 points.
Much of that was expected when the league's No. 1 defense (Chicago) went against the third-best (Sixers). Guess which team was wedged in between those in defensive royalty? That's right, the Boston Celtics.
So if the thought of the old-time rivalry being renewed — rekindling memories of games in which scoring machines such as Andrew Toney, Julius Erving, and Moses Malone faced the equally potent Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, and Robert Parish — think again.
This series might be as ugly as the one the Sixers clinched Thursday night when Andre Iguodala deposited two foul shots with 2.2 seconds remaining for a 79-78 win, the first series win by the Sixers since 2003.
In the Celtics, the Sixers face a team whose star player is hobbled, as Paul Pierce is playing with sprained ligaments in his left knee. In a late-season move by coach Doc Rivers, who was searching for a better defensive start to the game, sharpshooter Ray Allen was moved to the bench in favor of Avery Bradley.
Rajon Rondo still runs the point more than admirably — if sometimes erratically — and Kevin Garnett can still man the middle with the best of them.
So how will this series play out? Is it the slam dunk for the Celtics that many predict? Or does this young Sixers group not know any better to realize what is going on?
Here is a look:
The backcourt. In Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner, the Sixers have a bigger and more powerful tandem than the Celtics' starting duo of Bradley and Rondo. In the Bulls series, Sixers coach Doug Collins put Turner on point guard C.J. Watson, and Turner swallowed him up with his size. The quicker Holiday chased Rip Hamilton through picks. Covering Watson also allowed Turner to drift off on shots and rebound. Collins could duplicate that move against the Celtics, putting Turner on Rondo in an attempt to negate his penetration to the basket.
The mismatch for the Celtics is when Allen enters the game with the second unit. Rondo will be out there most of the game, as he averaged close to 42 minutes against the Hawks. So when Lou Wil liams comes in for the Sixers, whom does he cover? Wil liams will have to try to negate with his offense whatever he gives up at the defensive end.
Forwards. For the most part, Iguodala did a very good job on Chicago's Luol Deng, forcing him mostly to settle for jump shots throughout the series.
He must do the same to Pierce, who is a much better shooter than Deng. With Boston, the worst rebounding team in the league during the season, the Sixers' defense can help Iguodala more than it could against the Bulls, the top rebounding team in the league.
Elton Brand will need to make it a point to outplay Brandon Bass every game, giving the Sixers an advantage.
The real advantage here might be when the Sixers bring Thaddeus Young off the bench. Bottled up the entire series by Chicago's Taj Gibson, Young will probably feel as if he's been freed from solitary confinement. This should prove to be a positive mismatch for Collins in this series.
Center. There is no question the huge advantage here goes to the Celtics, with Garnett and all that he brings. Spencer Hawes must make outside shots consistently to draw Garnett from the paint, thus opening lanes for teammates. On defense, don't be surprised to see more of Lavoy Allen and maybe Tony Battie at times banging with Garnett to try to wear him down throughout the series.
Intangibles. Collins and Rivers are very close. Rivers' son, Austin, played for Collins' son, Chris, this past season at Duke. They know each other well, personally and professionally. There will be no surprises to either coach.
The key for the Sixers in this series goes back to the bench. They'll need solid production from Young and Wil liams. If they also can take advantage of Boston's suspect rebounding, they should be able to get out and run more than they could against the Bulls.
Boston will, and should, rely heavily on Rondo. If he is scoring around 20 points, dealing more than 10 assists, and starting fast breaks for the Celtics with his rebounding, it could be a quicker series than Sixers fans would like.
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