The Philadelphia 76ers are not expected to benefit that much from the season-ending Derrick Rose injury. In fact, Sixers fans like myself now have to feel worse that they didn't win the Atlantic Division and avoid the Chicago Bulls, even with Rose out. In contrast, the Boston Celtics won the division and suddenly became a favorite to reach the conference finals and beat the Bulls in round two.
But first the Celtics had to get past round one, although the Atlanta Hawks looked like a manageable opponent. However, 24 hours after Boston seemed to have a more promising playoff route, it crashed and burned in Atlanta with an 83-74 defeat - one which could even cost them Rajon Rondo for Game 2.
By the time Rondo chest-bumped an official after he failed to call a jump ball in the final minute, Boston already had a harsh reality check. After they were suddenly projected into the conference finals against the Miami Heat, the Celtics didn't even look like a playoff team to start Game 1. The Hawks jumped to a 31-18 lead after the first quarter, with the Celtics failing to get any hotter afterwards.
As the game turned into a defensive struggle, Boston had no offense to speak of as Rondo and Kevin Garnett combined for 40 of its 72 points. This makes it even more ominous that Rondo could be suspended for at least Game 2 after his contact with an official. If that happens and the Celtics can't make up for his absence in Game 2, their postseason hopes could go from extremely high to extremely low in the span of just a few days.
All signs seemed to point to one last Boston run, given its late-season rise to the Atlantic Division title and the new gift of Rose's injury. While the Sixers aren't considered a strong enough team to take advantage of the wounded Bulls in the first round, the Celtics would be everyone's pick over the Bulls in the second. Of course, maybe Atlanta would become everyone's pick instead if it keeps handcuffing Boston like this.
But while the Celtics shot just 39 percent, the Hawks shot just over 40 percent and scored no more than 18 points in each of the last three quarters. A Game 2 win would certainly make Boston the favorite again - especially if it happens without Rondo. Perhaps playing without higher expectations will help the Celtics next time out - since there doesn't seem to be much else that can make things worse.
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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