Two years ago, a fresh young 76ers team took the Boston Celtics in the second round of the NBA playoffs. It was Ben Simmons’, Joel Embiid’s, and Brett Brown’s first-ever playoffs. They took care of a lesser talented Miami Heat in the first round then they were shipping off to Boston to take on the hated Celtics. A rivalry that started before most of our times was renewed. Or so we thought. Brad Stevens walled off an inexperienced Ben Simmons, veteran Al Horford contained Joel Embiid, and the best storyline was some premature confetti. The Sixers lost in 5.
The 76ers thought they won the game in regulation.— ESPN (@espn) May 5, 2018
They had to clean up the confetti before OT. pic.twitter.com/bpah6R9TYe
What we all so desperately wanted to come back, was lost when the following season, the 76ers lost 3 of 4 and Joel Embiid shut down the rivalry talk because “they always kick out ass”. He wasn’t wrong, they kicked our asses, going 10-3 in 2 years including the playoffs. But this year we saw a change of course. Amid the Sixers struggles at times, they did not disappoint when it came to the Celtics, finally winning a season series 3-1 and the 6th seed 76ers head into the 2020 playoffs to take on the 3rd seed Boston Celtics.
The terms are a little different this time, Joel Embiid and Brett Brown are no longer rookies in the playoff game, Al Horford is now a 76ers, the Celtics wings look like stars in the making, and Ben Simmons is hurt. Injuries may no longer prove to be an excuse to save Brett’s job, Joel Embiid has a point to prove, and the underachieving 76ers look to surprise the world. Not a single ESPN ‘expert’ picked the Sixers to win.
What can the 76ers do to win? With everyone doubting them, with Ben Simmons hurt, and Brett Brown coaching for his job, how could the 76ers actually overcome all that? I have a few ideas and thoughts. Starting with using Matisse Thybulle over Al Horford in the starting line up, which Brown today said in a press conference that he was considering inserted the rookie defensive specialist into the starting line up. Although Brown did not elude to who Matisse would be replacing, the most likely and logical man would be Horford, especially on the defensive side of the ball, the Celtics smaller line up presents a mismatch for the big man.
For the 76ers to win, in my opinion, they need to do whatever they can to contain the Celtics’ wings. Three Celtics averaged 20 or more points, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Kemba Walker. I would suspect the Sixers live with the Shake Milton vs Kemba Walker match up and do everything in their power to slow down the two young wings. If they can hold both Tatum and Brown to less than 20 points a game, the matchups outside of their three scorers bold well in the favor of the 76ers. Joel Embiid should easily outplay the 6’8″ Daniel Theis, who averaged 9.2 points per game. Tobias Harris vs Gordon Hayward is a matchup that the Sixers can live with defensively, leaving Matisse Thybulle to guard Jayson Tatum, and Josh Richardson to guard Jaylen Brown. If the 76ers bring the defensive energy night in and night out, along with some adjustments like hedging screens once in a while, which the Sixers did in the last two seeding games, they have a shot at upsetting the Celtics.
A major factor that some may overlook coming into the series, is that the 76ers have a much deeper bench then the young Boston Celtics. The first two of the bench for the 76ers should be veterans Al Horford and Alec Burks followed by shooter Furkan Korkmaz, all three of which provide the ability to get hot and score, especially Burks who is averaging 19.6 in the last three games he played (thank you future gm Marty Teller). If I am Brett Brown, I am attacking the Celtics starters early and often, if the 76ers can get one of their big 3 into foul trouble early, Boston has to rely on the bench to take the load and that is an advantage for the 76ers. Also, we should expect Boston to send the double team to Joel in various different ways and times. Joel looked much better since the restart seeing the double team coming and making the correct pass, if that continues it will be huge for the 76ers chances.
The X factor for the 76ers is going to be intensity. There has been a ton of talk this season about shooting, fit, and chemistry but if you ask me a big downfall was lack of intensity or sense of urgency. Throughout the season the team has looked lethargic, settling for shots, allowing easy shots on the defensive end, and seemingly not caring for most of the games. Change that and this team has a shot. It’s much easier said than done, but we have seen this team come out of half time with their hair on fire, if I’m brown I’m coming with that intensity every game. With his job on the line, he needs to make sure these guys are fired up and know what is at stake, and if the players bring the intensity night in and night out they have far than enough talent to upset the Boston Celtics.
Finally, it’s all about Joel Embiid. The big man should come in with a point to prove. No Ben Simmons, a team that has repeatedly kicked his ass, and the whole world watching. Embiid has the ability to be a top 5 player on any given night, and the 76ers are going to need that player to show up if they want to have any chance. Joel Embiid dominating, defensive intensity and bench scoring are the keys to winning this series. Put all three of them together and the Philadelphia 76ers have a damn good shot at upsetting the Celtics.
Prediction: Sixers in 6. The homer in me won’t allow me to pick the Celtics to win, and while I do believe the 76ers are talented enough to beat the Celtics, it’s tough to look at them without their best perimeter defender in Ben Simmons and conclude without a doubt they are winning the series. Regardless, this is free hoops for me, back in March when the league shut down we didn’t know if we would ever get basketball back, but we did, and it has been nothing short of great. So, I’m going to throw my homer hat on, pull up my 76ers dress socks, and sit back and enjoy some playoff basketball.
BONUS: Our writing team got together, and we all threw out our own predictions. Here they are:
Pork Roll aka Tori Taylor: Celtics in 5
Jason Timperley: Celtics in 6
Brian Doughherty: Celtics in 5. They have home bubble advantage😂
Matt Maratea: The real issue is Boston is overrated but the Sixers are a bipolar team.
Johnny U: I got 76ers in 7! Think I feel an upset idk why. The nba bubble is unpredictable so anything can happen but won’t 😆
Phil Stiefel: if Embiid is healthy and right (which is still an if) Sixers win in 6. Noone on Cs can guard him and while missing Simmons hurts defensively… Tisse n JRich will step up on D and do just enough.
Bobby Dubs aka Rob Whitney: Sixers in 6