Philadelphia 76ers 82, Boston Celtics 75 (series tied, 3-3)
The Boston Celtics' recent history of failing to close out series after series on the road is well-documented, but this is getting a little silly. The Philadelphia 76ers are certainly good enough to beat the Celtics in a series. They're a legitimate conference finals contender, even as an eighth seed considering that end of the bracket (which was designed for the top-seeded Bulls to play a mediocre Eastern team in the second round), and the Sixers are certainly good enough to stand their ground at home with the team's season on the line.
For the Celtics to lose like this, though? Giving up on offensive possessions in the half court once Philly took away an initial option, and refusing to run out after misses? This was disappointing. And unlike other Celtic eras, which would see the team head back home for a deciding Game 7 with a (relatively) younger roster, nothing is guaranteed in Saturday's Game 7. The game starts at 0-0, and the Sixers have all the promise in the world if they keep their wits about them.
Credit Philadelphia. The team came out ready to turn this into a dogfight, and ready to let the Celtics know that nothing would be handed to them — which looked like what Rajon Rondo expected in this loss. No trips to the line unless you're a master like Paul Pierce, and no transition opportunities if you don't want to, y'know, transition the damn ball. All series long, Sixers coach Doug Collins has marveled at the team's ability to stay loose in the face of The Big Game, and that isn't just relative to Collins' nervy ways — these Sixers take chances, and not just in going for steals or knockout 3-pointers.
Let's give it up for Jrue Holiday, here. The Sixers guard isn't yet 22, and yet he's averaged around 15 points (a gaudy total, in this slow-paced affair) and five assists in five games after a rough Game 1. Elton Brand was seemingly everywhere defensively and finished with a triple-double. Game 5 hero Brandon Bass, missing 10 of 12 shots in the loss, was taken out of the game, and with Avery Bradley's shoulder injury looming large the Boston bench looks worse than ever — Mickael Pietrus played more minutes in this loss than five of his other bench mates combined, and he could only muster 2-of-6 shooting.
We're tilting forward a bit with this, but only because with Bradley's injury and the wear of a long season, it's obvious that Boston is flailing and the Sixers are a team on the make. And while we gave Philly the edge heading into this game, that doesn't mean Boston couldn't have grabbed it, kept it close and introduced Nervous Time for the young Sixers late in the contest.
There's still time to introduce the 76ers to that fear. The thought of consequence and responsibility. This team didn't have to line up for a Game 7 against Chicago, playing with house money all the way. It never had any expectations against Miami last year. It's never been supposed to do anything. On Saturday? In Game 7? They're supposed to show up. They have a chance to win, and they need to play like it.
With that in place, if Boston relies on that for an edge in Game 7, on the Sixers wetting their shorts? Then they're just about spotting them 10 points. Boston might get a few calls along the way, home cooking with a whistle dangling from its neck, but by and large the Sixers should be used to playing in a building they've worked in seven times under Doug Collins, combining this year and last.
It's going to be ugly, but it's going to be a Game 7. We may not be looking forward to the actual basketball, but we're quite intrigued at just how both teams will respond as they take to the biggest game of the year.