The last time the Liberty Ballers squared off
against their Atlantic Division rivals, Boston entered the game with a
46-16 record, and control of first place in the Eastern Conference.
Since then, the Celtics have struggled to keep their heads above water,
going 7-7 over their last 14, and ceding control of the number one seed
to Chicago. With the Heat suddenly surging as well, it's looking more
and more likely the C's could wind up settling for third.
Meanwhile, the Sixers cooled similarly following that meeting,
playing .500 ball over their last 12. However, the New York Knicks have
been steadily losing ground during the same period, and Doug Collins'
crew were able to build themselves a slight cushion in sixth place. As
you can see, with just five games remaining on Philly's slate, suddenly
this very likely could be a first round playoff matchup.
While we've debated whether or not the Sixers could actually win a
seven-game series against any of the top four clubs in the East, much of
that discussion previously centered around Chicago, Miami, or Orlando.
When the playoff push began in ernest, the Celtics were firmly
entrenched at the top. Even though they began falling, the focus in
Philadelphia had shifted to higher seeds, still seemingly out of
Now with a win tonight, the Sixers can make it difficult for the C's
to climb back ahead Miami, while simultaneously controlling their own
destiny with the Knicks, ultimately setting up the post-season rematch
in little more than a week.
A Sixers-Celtics series would be fitting, as the previous meetings
have all had that type of feel. The three contests have been decided by a
total of eight points, with Boston squeaking out a pair of victories
back in December, and the 76ers finally exacting revenge in an 89-86 W
on March 12 in front of a near-capaity crowd at the Well.
Which brings us back to whether they can steal a series come
post-season time. If things stand the way they do today, and the Sixers
draw the Celtics... do they maybe have their number, even just a little
bit? The Sixers held leads in the final minutes of both losses, and
dropped the first tilt on alley-oop in the closing seconds. And those
games were eons ago, when this club was still finding its way.
Last time around, the Sixers led almost the entire 48 minutes. When
Boston was on the ropes in the final quarter, they looked frantic and
desperate. Coach Collins would say after the game the key to game was
lockdown defense, particularly against Ray Allen, who shot just 1/3 from
beyond the arc, and a pitiful 2/11 from the field. The big three as a
whole (Allen, Garnett, Pierce) were limited to just 30 points.
But are the Celtics, with appearances in two of the last three NBA
Finals, and only a few years removed from a championship, really a good
post-season draw? Time will tell, but tonight is a huge, huge test—for