The Boston Celtics have defied the odds and hold a 2-0 advantage against the 76ers. What do they have to do to keep it up and advance to the next round?
In Games 1 and 2, the Boston Celtics were considered home underdogs against the 76ers. Admittedly, a banged up Boston team who squeaked by the Bucks in seven is a fair underdog against a Philly team that cruised through the first round in five games. Even picking the 76ers to win the series in 6 games, which I did, seemed like a modest take.
But now, the Celtics are up 2-0. The 76ers showed one small stretch of dominance, but they couldn’t even keep it up for a full half. In this stretch, they led by over 20 points in the first half and started to look like the favorite in the East everyone believed them to be.
It didn’t last long.
The Celtics controlled nearly everything in Game 1 and the last 30 minutes of Game 2. If someone with no recollection of the first round was watching, it would be the Celtics who looked like the better team and the favorite in the Eastern Conference. In the span of four days, Boston treated the 76ers like a dog in training.
Al Horford taught Joel Embiid how to sit. Terry Rozier showed JJ Redick where he could sleep at night. Jayson Tatum instructed Ben Simmons that he can only poop on the newspaper in the corner. Brad Stevens only allowed Brett Brown to have a treat if he didn’t act up.
As of right now, the Boston Celtics are in complete control of the series. Here’s two big reasons why.
Home Court Advantage
For years, the TD Garden has been one of the toughest places to play in the spring. The Bill Russell Celtics were unbeatable in the Old Garden. Same thing for Larry Bird and the crew in the ’80s. There was nothing you could do against Boston in the Garden. Now, the same type of feel is back in Beantown.
The fans were as good as ever this week. Even in the regular season, the Celtics faithful would cheer on Shane Larkin for grabbing a steal in a meaningless game against the Nets. If Jonathan Gibson hit a big three in the fourth quarter against the Hawks, they would act as if it were Game 7 of the NBA Finals. Now, when it’s the playoffs and the games do matter, they have taken it to another level.
The last five minutes of the second quarter, when the Celtics were staging their comeback, was incredible. No other fan base in the league can carry a run like the Boston crowd. Dunk after steal after three, the crowd somehow got louder and louder. By the time the Celtics had crawled within five, Philly might as well have treated the game like they were down 10.
Undoubtedly, this had an impact on the 76ers, none of which have any experience playing the Boston Celtics on the road in the playoffs. Some players never get used to the feeling, never mind guys like Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid getting their first taste.
This isn’t Miami, where fans stroll over from the beach and just need to find a place that has air conditioning. It might have been hot in New England this week, but the similarities stop there between Boston and South Beach. Here, sports are taken as seriously as religion or politics. When you step out on that floor, there is a different feeling. And if you can’t adapt quickly, it will get the better of you. Giving up two scores in a row will feel like twenty. A ten point lead will feel like a tie game.
When you’re in Boston and the fans aren’t rooting for you, things can go badly quick. Unfortunately for the Boston Celtics, the same thing can be said about the Wells Fargo Center and the mad Philly crowd. If they want to win this series, one win in the city of Brotherly Love could do it. But as we saw in the first round, that’s easier said than done.
Scoring the Ball
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This may sound crazy, but scoring is very important in the game of basketball. Some might say it’s an integral part of the game. Even further, if you score the ball more then your opponent, you might even win the game.
In the first two games against the SIxers, the Boston Celtics have done a tremendous job of putting the ball in the peach basket.
In Game 1, open threes were dropping so frequently that Joel Embiid hurt his neck looking at the bottom of the basket. After every layup and dunk, the Sixers had no choice but to continue going on offense. They knew they would be running back on defense soon enough, but there was no other option.
And it’s not just how the Celtics have been scoring, but who has been scoring. At the beginning of the season, beating Philly in the playoffs wouldn’t sound surprising at all. But now, with Terry Rozier and Jayson Tatum as the first and second options, it is a remarkable feat.
Terry Rozier, without any hesitation or ease-in period, has become an above average point guard in the NBA. Jayson Tatum, without any hesitation or ease-in period, is a superb rookie starting on a playoff contender. They just led the Boston Celtics in scoring in back to back playoff games. The duo outplayed two of the best youngsters the league had to offer in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons.
I think it’s safe to say Boston is in good hands. At home, they look unstoppable. The young guys look like veterans, ready and willing to extend this magical run a few more weeks.
Two down, two to go.