Get ready for the vintage Larry Bird–Julius Erving highlight reels starting tonight.
More importantly — who wins the series? We’ve got the (alleged) answers right here.
Ryan DeGama: The Celtics will win this series, but with Paul Pierce unlikely to approach 100% against the hyperathletic Andre Igoudala and Ray Allen a question mark for game one, it’s going to prove tougher than many are expecting. If the Celtics can control tempo (no turnovers!) and force Philly to grind it out, the Sixers are going to struggle to score against this Boston halfcourt defense. The Rajon Rondo–Jrue Holiday matchup is not as clear a win for the Celtics as you might think, especially if Rondo takes quarters off or plays them badly, the way he did last series. Nobody expected the Celtics to have homecourt in round two but it might prove the difference. Boston in 7.
Michael Pina: The Celtics will move on for myriad reasons (skill, experience, etc.), but what I’m most looking forward to in this series is Avery Bradley’s true coming out party. Due to a sudden shoulder injury and an unfavorable matchup against the 6’8″ Joe Johnson, Doc Rivers wasn’t able to utilize his feisty, small backcourt in the first round. Against Philadelphia, a team that likes to run on the backs of Lou Williams, Jrue Holiday, and Evan Turner, Boston’s emerging weapon will finally make his presence felt.
The Sixers have youth, overwhelming athleticism, and confidence now that they’ve made their first bit of playoff progress in about a decade. If you believe professional sports is a bottom line business, then the bottom line with Philadelphia is that they beat Chicago in six games. But if you want to break down that series as a way to learn what might happen in this one, what really happened is they squeaked past a Bulls team that was missing its two best players. It wasn’t an eighth seed defeating one of basketball’s premier contenders. This was a borderline playoff team that had its hands full with a lottery bound roster of role players. This isn’t a case of my overlooking Philadelphia in anticipation of a showdown with Miami. It’s my belief that the Sixers simply aren’t all that good. Boston in 5.
Brian Robb: Philadelphia is a tough little team to figure out. The key to this series as Doc Rivers already articulated will be the turnover game. The Sixers are the best in the league this postseason at not coughing up the ball, and like Atlanta, they have the athleticism to force turnovers at an impressive clip as well (top-10 in regular season). The issue for them is no one can score the ball with any regularity. If you thought Boston’s offense was ugly, take into account only Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen averaged above 42 percent shooting from the field against Chicago in six games of action. The Sixers also hit 24.7 percent of their 3-pointers in that series, and Boston is one of the best at defending beyond the arc.
Philadelphia survived against Chicago because they were able to get to the line at an impressive clip against an undermanned Bulls team. In the regular season however, they were the worst team in the league at getting to the charity stripe (free throws per field goal attempt), so given the small sample size, I don’t expect this getting to the line trend to continue against a superb Boston defense. Putting it all together, I don’t think Philly can score enough to win four games in this series. Boston’s injuries will play a factor and make the series longer than it should be, but if Pierce, Allen and Bradley can stay on the floor and contribute, Boston gets it done. Boston in 7.
Brendan Jackson: This series is going to be really hard to predict. The Sixers don’t have the individual talent the Hawks had, which leaves the Celtics without anyone around which to specifically design their defensive game plan. What sounds like a good thing actually has a tendency to cause the Celtics to become complacent on the defensive end when they think a lesser player has the ball. The biggest problem with this approach is that while the Sixers are a collection of less-than-stars, they’re all still pretty good, not to mention young, athletic, and defensive minded.
Against the Bulls, a few players stood out as real x-factors. Both Jrue Holiday and Spencer Hawes showed flashes of brilliance against the Bulls and provided an offensive spark when no flint seemed available. I’m looking forward to see if Hawes has the same success against Kevin Garnett as he did against Carlos Boozer and a hobbled Joakim Noah. Or is Holiday can do as well with Avery Bradley checking him.
Despite being embarrassed more than once by the Sixers in the regular season, the Celtics should win this series pretty handily. Both the Sixers and Celtics struggle to score in the half-court and are both elite defensive teams. Luckily for the C’s, if it comes down to the Celtics or the Sixers needing to score, the easy money is on the C’s to convert. This series could be prove to be the Sixers welcoming party into the league of really good teams or it could be evidence of how a lesser team made it past a injury-depleted Bulls team. I’m leaning towards the latter. Celtics in 6.
Hayes Davenport: Game is starting so I need to be quick: I think the Sixers are uniquely equipped to challenge the Celtics based on two assets: youth and depth. Both contribute to Philly’s speed, longevity, and injury tolerance. The Celtics are clearly the better team, but as we’ve seen all season and into the playoffs, they’ll go entire games playing far under their potential, so they could play an extended series against pretty much any team. I don’t think Philly’s going to make it through, but I do think it’s going to drag on. Celtics in 7.