The Philadelphia 76ers are one of the only two obstacles left to prevent a Boston Celtics-Miami Heat Eastern Conference final. Sixers fans like myself would like to help prevent this mega showdown by knocking off the Celtics, yet we know it will be an uphill battle in the second round. But if Boston is looking more ahead to facing Miami than Philadelphia, it might be a fairer fight.
Ever since Derrick Rose got injured and doomed the Bulls against the Sixers, virtually everyone projected the Celtics to face the Heat in the conference finals. Now that showdown is one round away, presuming that Boston takes care of Philadelphia and Miami knocks off the Indiana Pacers. Since the Sixers are a less well regarded team than the Pacers, it would seem that the Celtics have the easier road to the next round.
However, it isn't like Boston was an overwhelming powerhouse in its opening series with the Atlanta Hawks. All but one game went down to the wire, as the Celtics could have easily been eliminated without one or two breaks. They had to win in ugly fashion to advance - just like the Sixers did over the Bulls.
Boston and Philadelphia won in brutal, defensive-centric battles, which may make them more evenly matched than most give them credit for. This also takes into account how the Sixers beat the Celtics two out of three times this year, winning in rather convincing fashion on Mar. 7 and Mar. 23 in Philadelphia. Yet those wins took place when the Sixers were in first place and the Celtics were stuck in mediocrity.
By the time they faced off in Boston on April 8, the Celtics were taking control of the Atlantic Division while the Sixers were limping. It was reflected further in Boston's 103-79 victory which pretty much ended the divisional race. However, now that the Sixers have momentum again after eliminating the Bulls, maybe they can start looking like the team that had its way with the Celtics earlier this season.
Philadelphia can really take care of business against Boston if it is at its best, and vice versa. These two teams haven't faced each other while both have been at their best all season, but that will presumably change in this series. As such, if the Celtics are caught napping, things could get a little interesting.
Even if it is inevitable that Boston will advance and face Miami next, it doesn't want Philadelphia to bang it up too much first. If it takes much more than expected for the Celtics to get past the Sixers, how will they then be able to upset the Heat?
Maybe the best that Philadelphia can do is make Boston too exhausted to topple Miami in the future. However, if the Celtics are fully focused and do not look ahead towards LeBron James and Dwayne Wade, stopping Andre Iguodala and Lou Williams could be a cakewalk after all. But if not, the Sixers may just benefit from another playoff opponent's surprising struggles.
Robert Dougherty is a life-long Philadelphia resident and 76ers fan - who has become quite familiar with the Celtics in that time.
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