Embrace the feeling. Dig deep into your closets. Find those old Sixers car flags which became so popular during the Iverson era and put them on display. Play this old school tune and enjoy every last minute of it. Take a week off from watching the Phillies (you’ll probably save yourself from a week of anger and disappointment anyway). It’s officially time to rally around the Sixers.
They have been team irrelevant in the city of Philadelphia for too long, and it’s time for them to receive their proper due. It doesn’t matter how it happened, or for that matter what could happen next. What matters right now is displaying appreciation and gratitude for this eighth-seeded Sixers team, that just knocked off the top-seeded Chicago Bulls. It was only the fifth time in NBA history, that an eight seed was able to knock off a one seed.
What can be said about this Sixers season and this Sixers team is that they are far from normal. In terms of the playoff teams remaining in this fight for the Larry O’Brien trophy, the Sixers stand on an island all by their lonesome. They went from second place in the Eastern Conference in February, to barely squeaking into the playoffs as an eight seed come April. They lack a superstar. They have a coach in Doug Collins who went from a coach of the year candidate to nearly getting fired. Their starting lineup shuffled throughout the season more than a blackjack deck at a casino. They have a defense ranked third in the NBA, but an offense that stands all the way down at 22nd. They play in a city which by all rights wrote them off months ago. Yet this unconventional, under-appreciated team has placed itself a couple steps closer to an NBA Championship.
If there’s one word that can be used to describe the Sixers post-season success so far in these playoffs, it would be: capitalizing.
From the Derrick Rose injury in Game 1, to Joakim Noah’s injury in Game 4. From Tom Thibodeau’s bad coaching decisions which led to the injuries, to CJ Watson’s decision to make a pass to an open Omer Asik rather than run out the clock for a victory in Game 6. These Sixers saw the opportunities in front of them and capitalized on them. The Sixers should’ve lost this series, and they were two Asik free-throws away from it most likely happening. Having to play a Game 7 back in Chicago would’ve been a nightmare for this team, and one which would’ve had an unhappy ending. Game 6 wasn’t won by the Sixers, but rather lost by the Bulls. The Bulls out-rebounded the Sixers 56-33 and had 29 second-chance points to the Sixers five. Without knowing the score of the game, if I saw those two statistics I would’ve thought the Bulls won the game with ease. Yet, with all the advantages that shifted the Bulls’ way throughout this series, it was the disadvantages that the series will ultimately be remembered by.
The focus now shifts to the Atlantic Division Champion, Boston Celtics. The Celtics are a team who like the Sixers limped into the playoffs, but not by bad play. Their limping comes from old age. The Celtics big three of Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, and Kevin Garnett have been toughing out injuries in this year’s playoffs. Ray Allen missed the better part of April due to a sprained right ankle that is still bothering him, Paul Pierce has been playing through a sprained MCL in his left knee, and Kevin Garnett had a hip flexor in late April, which likely has to still bother him at this point in the season. They got through the Hawks in six games(barely) and after one day of rest are scheduled to play the fast and healthy Sixers at 8 p.m. tomorrow.
Realistically, the Celtics are the Division Champions. The Celtics routed the Sixers in their last meeting on Easter 103-79. The Celtics are only a few years removed from winning an NBA title in 2008 and was on the losing end of the Finals in 2010. The Celtics have the veterans who have played in big games, while the Sixers most notable player, Andre Iguodala, just got past the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his eight-year career. The Celtics also carry arguably the best point guard in the NBA in Rajon Rondo. Rondo averaged a double-double this season which included seven triple-doubles. Rondo’s seventh triple-double came in a Game 3 win over the Hawks.
On paper, just like the Bulls, the Celtics have the talent and resume to beat the Sixers. Realistically, they probably will. But maybe the Sixers have stumbled upon yet another situation for them to capitalize on. Out of the teams left in the playoffs, the Sixers are one of the youngest while the Celtics as we all know are the oldest. The Celtics own a stifling defense ranked second in the NBA, but their offense actually sits four spots below the Sixers at 26th.
Could the Celtics have peaked too early back in April when they dismantled the Sixers? Could the Sixers be peaking at just the right time? Are the cards simply just falling exactly how the Sixers had imagined they would?
The only thing that is for certain is that the unconventional Sixers are not going to back down from the challenge, and against the Celtics the games are going to hold that much more emotion. The Celtics won the Atlantic Division, but the Sixers have the opportunity to capture their revenge. The only prize that matters now is going to the Eastern Conference Finals. The regular season is no longer on the radar, and that’s exactly how the Sixers need to think in order to win this upcoming series.