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Celtics-76ers Round 2 Preview: Can Ray Allen Contribute?

(Ron Cortes/Philadelphia Inquirer)

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are no strangers to each other. Along with sharing the same division and the rivalry that goes along with it, the Celtics and Sixers have had stretches in history where the two have had to battle each other in the playoffs for Eastern Conference supremacy year after year.

Historical Precedent

Whether it was the Wilt Chamberlin-Bill Russell era, the Larry Bird-Julius Erving era or the early part of this century when the up-and-coming Celtics, led by youngster Paul Pierce, were destined to meet Allen Iverson’s Sixers in the playoffs, the Celtics and Sixers have fought in some memorable series.

If history is any precedent, than the upcoming Celtics-Sixers matchup in the Conference Semifinal round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs looks to be a contested one.

Celtics X Factor: Ray Allen

Allen was relatively quiet in the four games he played for the Celtics in their series with the Atlanta Hawks. The bone spurs in Allen’s ankle obviously hindered his performance, as he shot just 6-for-18 from 3-point range and just 60 percent from the free-throw line.

With the Celtics’ offense struggling and the long and staunch Sixers defense awaiting them, Allen’s ability to connect from deep could be the difference between a short series and a lengthy grueling one.

Sixers X Factor: Andre Iguodala‘s Two-Way Game

Iguodala is the heart and soul of the Sixers defense (like a Kevin Garnett lite), so it is only fitting that he draws Pierce in this series. The Celtics’ Captain is having as good a year as he’s ever had, and for the Sixers to have a chance, he has to be stopped by Iguodala.

Iguodala rarely puts his team on his back offensively, but when he does- look out. In Game 6 against the Bulls, Iguodala exploded for 20 points and scored the game-winning free throws on an aggressive full court drive. Iguodala’s aggressiveness on offense in Round 1 made the difference for the Sixers. Can he do it in Round 2?

Key Matchup: Brandon Bass vs Elton Brand

If there is a current NBA player for Brandon Bass to shape his game after, it’s Elton Brand. Both are undersized and have an unmatched knack for knocking down 18-footers. Bass’s post game and rebounding ability are miles away from Brand’s and that’s what he can learn from the veteran.

Bass struggled against the quicker, more athletic front line of Atlanta, but with the slower, more stationery Brand matched up against him now, Bass has to be on the attack. The Celtics desperately need Bass to rebound better and there’s no better place to start than with boxing out Brand.

Prediction: Celtics in 7

The Sixers scored less than 80 points in three of their six games against Chicago and barely shot 40 percent on the series. The Celtics allowed just 82 points a game against a Hawks team that averaged 97 on the season. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Celtics won a game in this series by holding the Sixers to 60 points. Basically, the first team to 80 wins.

The stats suggest the Celtics should win this series easily, but they won’t. Pierce, Allen and  Avery Bradley are all playing with injuries that would take a full week of rest to heal if it were the regular season. Compounded with health is the Celtics’ collective penchant for falling asleep for long stretches of games. If they do this frequently, the Sixers will make them pay.

If Rajon Rondo controls the pace and the ball consistently and if Garnett can stop the bleeding on the glass, this series could be easy.

What’s really going to win this series, though? Home court.

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