The 35-win Philadelphia 76ers defeated the 50-win Chicago Bulls 4-2 in the opening round of the 2012 NBA Playoffs to become just the third number eight seed in NBA history to beat a number one seed in a seven-game series. Yes, the Bulls were without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah for much of the series, but that does not diminish Philadelphia's accomplishment in the slightest bit.
For the first time in nearly a decade, the 76ers have won a playoff series, and they will face the Boston Celtics in an Eastern Conference semifinals matchup. Boston advanced to the second round by beating the Atlanta Hawks 4-2. The Celtics and 76ers are longtime Atlantic Division rivals and are meeting in the postseason for the first time since Boston defeated Philadelphia 3-2 in the first round of the 2002 NBA Playoffs.
The Celtics and 76ers met three times during the regular season with Philadelphia winning the series 2-1. All three games were won by the home team.
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers Eastern Conference Semifinals Schedule
Game 1: Saturday, May 12, Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics, 8:00 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 2: Monday, May 14, Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics, 7:00 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 3: Wednesday, May 16, Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers, 7:00 p.m. ET on TNT
Game 4: Friday, May 18, Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers, TBD on ESPN
Game 5: Monday, May 21, Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics, TBD on TNT (if necessary)
Game 6: Wednesday, May 23, Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers, TBD on ESPN (if necessary)
Game 7: Saturday, May 26, Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics, TBD (if necessary)
Although the three regular-season games (which were all double-digit affairs) might suggest otherwise, this series is likely to be a hotly contested and competitive battle. Both the Celtics and 76ers have played solid defense all season long. During the regular season, both teams held their opponents to less than 97 points per 100 possessions (the average NBA team allowed 101.84 points per 100 possessions). Boston and Philadelphia have raised their defensive intensity during the playoffs and are allowing just 89.5 and 92.0 points per 100 possessions, respectively.
This series will be a defensive battle. The team that finds a way to consistently manufacture points against the opposing team's stellar defense is the team that will likely advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
Rajon Rondo is Boston's offensive motor, and the 76ers will have to limit his effectiveness if they want to win this series. In three regular-season meetings against Philadelphia, the Celtics had a phenomenal offensive rating of 117.1 in the 97 minutes that Rondo was on the floor. When he was resting on the bench, Boston's offensive rating plummeted to 69.6. That astounding 47.5 difference shows just how important Rondo is to the Celtics' offense.
To limit his effectiveness, the 76ers will have to keep Rondo out of the paint and crowd his passing lanes. If Rondo penetrates the lane on a regular basis, Philadelphia's defense will eventually collapse, which will allow Ray Allen and Paul Pierce to spot up for open jumpers.
Offensively, the 76ers will need to get out in transition and score as many easy points as they possibly can. To create those transition opportunities, Philadelphia will have to force Boston into as many turnovers as possible. If the 76ers, who lack a clear playmaker, repeatedly find themselves trying to score against Boston's vaunted half-court defense, Philadelphia will have a difficult time putting up enough points to win four games in this series.
Prediction: Celtics 4-2
Mark is a lifelong fan of the NBA who has loved the game of basketball ever since his first trip to an NBA arena. Mark has watched more basketball games than anyone can count and has hundreds of articles about the NBA published on the internet. Mark also shares his random NBA musings and game-by-game predictions on RandomNBAFan.com.
More on the 2012 NBA Playoffs:
Information from ESPN.com's Boston Celtics 2012 Schedule, Hollinger's NBA Team Stats; Basketball-Reference.com's Philadelphia 76ers Franchise Index; and NBA.com's Advanced Stats was used for this article.