Arbella Series Preview: 76ers vs. Celtics
BOSTON – The Atlanta Hawks are in the rearview mirror and now it’s time for the Boston Celtics (4-2) to kick off the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Philadelphia 76ers (4-2) at 8 p.m. Saturday night in TD Garden.
Boston and Philadelphia both eliminated their first-round opponents in six games, with the C’s defeating the fifth-seeded Hawks and the Sixers knocking off the top-seeded Bulls.
Unlike the first round, the Celtics will now have the luxury of playing the first two games of this series at home. Although it’s a quick turnaround, Doc Rivers cherishes home court advantage.
“We knew the advantage is we don’t have to get on a plane,” said Rivers. “Our guys can sleep in their bed tonight and tomorrow night and get some rest.”
The C’s will have their crowd behind them but will still need to carry over a talent they displayed in the first round: keeping the opponent out of transition. The 76ers are young, quick, long and athletic, enough to prompt Rivers to call them “gazelles.”
“We’re not going to out-run them. They’re faster than us. They’re going to win the track meet, there’s no doubt about that,” Rivers remarked. “So we have to find a way of getting them to play in the half court.”
Philadelphia shines in transition and isn’t a typical eighth seed. Boston knows that it must perform at a higher level than it did in the first round in order to advance yet again. The work begins Saturday night.
Many will hear the name “Doug Collins” and immediately think that he has been around the coaching game longer than Doc Rivers. False.
Rivers has coached in three more NBA seasons than Collins, coached 212 more regular season games and has a substantial edge in playoff experience. Rivers has won more postseason games (55) than Collins has even coached (49). Boston’s coach has also roamed the sidelines in two NBA Finals, winning one, while Collins has never advanced past the Conference Semifinals.
These numbers, however, don’t diminish Collins as a coach. He is an incredible motivator and will have his team ready to play. Still, it’s nice that Boston has the edge in experience.
Rajon Rondo, a three-time NBA All-Star, has a clear advantage over third-year guard Jrue Holiday. However, the Celtics and everyone else watching better keep their eyes out for Holiday.
Philly’s point guard had a phenomenal opening round against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls. He averaged 18.2 PPG, 5.2 RPG and 4.7 APG and made 40.9 percent of his 3s. Those numbers are drastically higher than those he accumulated against the Celtics in three games this season (11.0 PPG, 2.3 RPG, 3.7 APG).
Rondo was on fire in the opening round as well, averaging 16.8 PPG, 5.6 RPG and 11.8 APG. The biggest stat of all, however, is that Rondo coughed the ball up 3.6 times per game. He must take care of the ball against Holiday in this series and defend him tightly at the other end.
Former No. 2 overall pick Evan Turner has locked down the starting shooting guard position in Philadelphia. He had a strong first round with averages of 11.7 PPG, 6.3 RPG and 2.8 APG. He had a huge game against the Celtics back on March 7, when he dropped 26 points and nine rebounds in a 103-71 win for the 76ers.
But that was before Avery Bradley became the starting shooting guard for the Celtics. Bradley played just 14 minutes in that game before stepping into a major role on March 23, when Mickael Pietrus was injured in Philadelphia. Bradley has since gone on to become one of the top on-ball defenders in the game, and Turner knows all about that. When these two faced off on April 8, a game Boston won 103-79 in TD Garden, Bradley limited Turner to just 10 points, three rebounds and 3-of-6 shooting.
Small forward is the premier position in this series. Two 2012 All-Stars, Paul Pierce and Andre Iguodala, will match up here.
Iguodala has honed his game in under the direction of Collins and become the leader of Philadelphia’s team. He is one of the best all-around wing players in the game and can single-handedly shut down opposing scorers.
Pierce certainly won’t be looking forward to facing off with Iguodala, particularly because the captain is nursing a sprained left knee. Pierce shot the ball well against Iguodala and the Sixers in the regular season, making 52.8 percent of his attempts, but shooting at that rate and leading his team in the scoring department will be much more difficult with a nagging injury.
Elton Brand is the starting power forward for the 76ers and he played nearly 33 minutes a night in the first round. He did, however, struggle during those minutes, averaging just 8.0 PPG, 5.5 RPG and 41.7 percent shooting.
Brandon Bass struggles defensively against quick forwards like Josh Smith, but Brand is the antithesis of that. Brand will hit the open jumper and pound the glass, but Bass should be able to compete with him in those departments.
If you happened to watch Kevin Garnett during or after Game 6, you already know there’s a lot of fire left in his bones. He dominated the first round with averages of 18.7 PPG and 10.5 RPG. His Game 6 performance of 28 points, 14 rebounds, three steals and five blocks was epic.
He’ll be facing off against a young center in Spencer Hawes, who excelled in the first round against Chicago. Hawes scored more than 20 points in two of Philly’s first-round games and grabbed at least eight boards in four of the six games. At 7-foot-1 and 245 pounds, Hawes is a big body that can hit the mid-range jumper.
Garnett has the clear advantage at this position, but Hawes won’t back down. The good thing for the Celtics is that Garnett’s length will challenge Hawes’ shot and Hawes will not pressure KG off the dribble.
Rivers brilliantly summed up the differences between these two benches Friday afternoon.
“They have scoring coming off their bench. Our bench is more defensive-minded and energy,” he said. “We do have Ray (Allen), which gives us scoring, but I think their bench comes in to change the tempo of the game offensively; our bench comes in to change the tempo of the game defensively.”
The 76ers rely on Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young to provide a scoring punch off the bench. Williams was the team’s leading scorer in the regular season with 14.9 PPG, while Young chipped in 12.8 PPG. Those numbers have dropped to 12.8 PPG and 7.2 PPG, respectively, in the playoffs.
Meanwhile, the C’s will look for scoring from Allen and accept the intangibles that guys like Keyon Dooling, Mickael Pietrus, Marquis Daniels, Greg Stiemsma and Ryan Hollins bring to the table.