You can throw out the three regular season games between these teams, and you’d have a very difficult time trying to determine whether we’ll see the 76ers who came out firing early in the season or the team who struggled late. All of that is irrelevant. If Philadelphia is good enough to beat the Chicago Bulls, no matter how banged up the Bulls were, they’re good enough to beat the Celtics. As we saw in round one, anything can happen in the playoffs.
Here, then, are five keys to the series:
1. It’s going to be ugly: The NBA tried its hardest to bury the Sixers-Bulls series, putting the games on early in the evening and exclusively on NBA TV. It wasn’t that the teams didn’t deserve the spotlight, but rather that the brand of basketball they were playing lacked in aesthetics. The Bulls, Celtics, and Sixers were ranked first, second, and third in the league this season in opponents points per game, which means Philadelphia gets another matchup against a team that isn’t afraid to muck it up. The Celtics have players who can fill the highlight reel, but it won’t be easy against Philly. Expect some games in the 80’s.
2. Height: The Sixers are tall — long if you’re Jay Bilas — which could pose matchup problems for the Celtics. They start a true center in Spencer Hawes, and their guards Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner are 6’4″ and 6’7″ respectively. The Celtics have had success playing small in the second half of the season, and it will be interesting to see which team matches up with the other more often.
3. Injuries: You NBA writers are all the same, always falling back on injuries as an excuse. Welp. Ray Allen said Friday that his ankle feels as bad as it did two weeks ago. Paul Pierce’s knee may not be 100 percent all playoffs. And the Celtics are older across the board. The Sixers have the horses to take advantage of any Celtics ailments.
4. Experience: What the Celtics lack in athleticism they make up for in experience. Until Thursday night the Sixers hadn’t won a playoff series since 2003, meaning these players hadn’t won a playoff series at all. The Celtics have made it to the second round of the playoffs every postseason in the New Big Three Era. If you’re looking for a reason why the Celtics are favored in this series, this is it.
5. Benches: Thaddeus Young and Lou Williams could present problems for the Celtics off the bench, while Mickael Pietrus and Greg Stiemsma have struggled for the Celtics in the postseason. Ray Allen comes off the bench now, and Ryan Hollins has been a revelation in a few recent games. Doc Rivers calls Hollins an agitator. More of that, please.
Predictions: The national experts are almost universally picking the Celtics. The Celtics are 5.5 point favorites in Vegas in Game 1. Leave your prediction for the series below.
Here are the details for tonight’s game:
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
Broadcast info: TNT/CSNNE, WEEI/850 AM/93.7 FM (Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell)
PG: Rajon Rondo
SG: Avery Bradley
SF: Paul Pierce
PF: Brandon Bass
C: Kevin Garnett
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Evan Turner
SF: Andre Iguodala
PF: Elton Brand
C: Spencer Hawes