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The Philadelphia 76ers didn’t show us how tough they are last night, nor how strong their will is, nor how much fortitude they have. Instead, last night, the Boston Celtics showed us how complacent they are, how uninterested they can be, and how little they want to fight.
After scoring 36 points in the first half and finding themselves ahead by three, conventional wisdom would tell us that the older, more seasoned Celtics would finish off the 76ers in the second half. But the 76ers, led by Jrue Holiday’s 20 points, proved that the Celtics weren’t ready to take advantage of a team that could barely get out of its own way. Instead, when it mattered most, the “indestructible” Celtics defense watched Holiday slice his way to the rim without breaking a sweat.
But don’t credit Holiday. It’s fairly easy to get to the basket when there’s no one trying to stop you.
The 76ers played a typical 76er game. They shot poorly from the free throw line. They shot poorly from the three point line. The 76ers did exactly what the Celtics expected them to do. The problem, however, was that the Celtics managed to play just as poorly, and dare I say, worse. The Celtics shot poorly from, well, everywhere (33 percent overall), including 3-14 from beyond the arc. But the Celtics certainly could have won that game in spite of their poor offensive performance.
What really cost them is that the 76ers anemic offense managed to score 27 points in the third quarter. Twenty-seven? From the same team that scored 11 points in the second quarter? Yes.
Did they all of a sudden find their shooting stroke? No. Instead, the Celtics invited them to score, and score they did.
So after the Celtics gave away a chance to beat an inferior team on the road in Game 6, it begs the question: what should we expect of the Boston Celtics?
If they lose in Game 7, should we be amicable? Are Avery Bradley’s injury and Ray Allen’s ghost-like performance enough to justify losing a series to a team whose “best player” is, well…who is their best player, again? The Celtics should beat the 76ers Saturday night, and they should be able to beat them by simply scoring over 85 points.
If losing Game 7 isn’t an option (and it’s not), then should we expect them to beat Miami or Indiana in the Eastern Conference Finals? Without Bradley to guard Dwyane Wade, and without a two-legged Paul Pierce to guard LeBron James, do they really stand a chance? Could Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass realistically match up with Roy Hibbert and David West in the paint?
My answer to both questions is “no.” Wade and James would run through the Celtics “tough” defense like a hot knife through butter. Garnett and Bass would make Hibbert look like Patrick Ewing (and for the record, Roy Hibbert is not Patrick Ewing).
It’s time we stopped pretending the Celtics are still a great defensive team and instead look at the reality: they’ve played Atlanta and Philadelphia in the first two rounds. These are two teams that wouldn’t know how to score during a playoff game if the rim was as big as a swimming pool. It will be the Celtics defense, and its defense alone, that undoes their season. Not injuries. Not age. Not lack of depth.
As we heard Doc Rivers say to his team during a huddle in Game 4: “It’s about defense.”