The Philadelphia 76ers suddenly have to worry about looking past the Chicago Bulls, as unlikely as that was a week ago. Now Sixers fans like myself have to hope they focus on eliminating the Bulls, instead of preparing too early for a second round matchup with the Boston Celtics. In any case, if the Sixers are already taking a look at the Celtics, they probably haven't liked what they've seen anyway - especially after what happened on May 6.
The Celtics had three straight low scoring slugfests to start their series with the Atlanta Hawks, yet Game 4 was much easier for them. After being handcuffed in large part by the Atlanta defense, Boston had an offensive explosion with a 64-point first half en route to a 101-79 victory.
Even that margin of victory is misleading, given how the Celtics scored just 11 points in the fourth quarter. This could have been a 30-40 point slaughter, unlike every other game in this series. Yet after three games of scoring between 70-90 points, Boston proved it couldn't be held in check forever - a message which may have spread to both Philadelphia and Miami.
With the Sixers and Celtics now both up 3-1 in their series, a second round battle is looking more and more inevitable. But a Celtics-Miami Heat Eastern Conference final is considered even more inevitable than that now. And with performances like this against the Hawks, the Celtics are building their case as an actual genuine threat to the Heat.
They still might not have quite enough to topple the Heat anyway, yet they would certainly be a heavy favorite over the Sixers first. However, both Philadelphia and Boston have been adept at winning low scoring, ugly games in the playoffs, and each team has one impressive blowout win mixed in.
Still, the difference is that the Celtics have Kevin Garnett, Ray Allen, Paul Pierce and especially Rajon Rondo, while the Sixers do not have anything close to that lineup. And while Philadelphia did win two of three games over Boston, the two wins came before the Celtics got hot and the Sixers cooled off. Philadelphia is getting hot again, nonetheless - but Boston is showing signs of getting even hotter.
Just a week ago, the Celtics looked to be in huge trouble after losing Game 1 and losing Rondo to a suspension. Yet in the blink of an eye, Boston has put a chokehold on Atlanta and has its eye set on Miami and one last championship run.
However, maybe that will tempt the Celtics to look past the Hawks and take longer to finish them off - or tempt them to look past the Sixers after that. Either way, Philadelphia has to hope that something stops Boston from looking as good as it did in Game 4 with Atlanta. Otherwise the thrill of eliminating the Bulls - if/when it comes - may give way to harsh reality in Boston before long.
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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