By Josh Landsburg, Sports Talk Philly staff
After a very exciting overtime game in which the Sixers hit a buzzer beater at the end to send it into overtime, the Sixers again, unfortunately, came up short. If things do not change soon, and quick, the Sixers will be swept out of the first round by the hated Boston Celtics.
The Sixers have been outplayed in every way this series, and it is somewhat surprising for a team that closed the regular season on such a hot streak, and beat a tough, physical team in Miami in five games in the first round. However, should we really be surprised? Were our expectations too high? Let’s look at some of the facts.
The Celtics, although young, are a much more experienced team. The Celtics made it to the conference finals last year with much of the same personnel, and this is the Sixers first trip into the playoffs for a lot of the guys, and the guys who have the most experience in the playoffs are role players. The Celtics have a great combination of youth, leadership, and experience. The Sixers do not have a guy like Al Horford for example, and they do not have a guy like Marcus Smart, whom I refer to all the time as “Draymond Green Light.” Smart does all the little things, some of which fill up a stat sheet, but a lot of stuff that does not even show up. This Celtics team is a well oiled machine, coached very well, and able to handle all sorts of adversity. On top of all of that, they just so happened to have gotten hot and are hitting all their shots.
On the other side, the Sixers are a young team with their two star players being Ben Simmons, a rookie, and Joel Embiid, a second year player, with no playoff experience. The rest of the team is purely shooters, those are the only two that can drive and get inside, and if the Sixers shots are not sinking, they’re not going to win. Oh yeah, Simmons is having a horrible series, and he looks like a shell of himself in this round, not ready for the moment. However, that is okay because this team will get better next year.
We Expected Too Much
Before the season started, most people, including Las Vegas and myself, had this team around 40 wins, making the playoffs as the 8th seed and getting bounced in the first round. As the season continued, expectations went up, especially as they closed the season on a 16 game winning streak and finished as the 3rd seeded team. At that point, pretty much everyone had them getting out of the 1st round, and most people were rooting for the 7th seeded Milwaukee Bucks to beat the 2nd seeded Celtics in round one, which they almost did as that went seven games. That would have given the Sixers home court advantage, but unfortunately the Celtics won, whom I did not want to face.
A lot of people at the start of the playoffs had the Sixers going to the Conference Finals or even the Finals, including myself, but it looks like that is not going to happen, unless they pull off the impossible (See next topic). I think, we as a fan base expected too much of this team. Second round with the first year of this group is not bad, and they’re only going to get better and add more pieces in the offseason, and maybe, just maybe, they’ll get something more out of Markelle Fultz next year, which would be huge, or package him in a trade for Kawhi Leonard or something. We shall see.
Can They Pull Off the Impossible?
No team, I repeat that NO TEAM, in NBA Playoff history has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit. I can throw all the clichés at you that you’ve probably heard, such as: “You can’t win all four games at once,” “Take it one game at a time.” “The hardest game to win is the first one,” and on and on it goes.
They do have some history with Boston in that the last time Philly was down 3-0 to Boston was when the Flyers were down 3-0 in the Conference Finals to the Bruins in 2010 and went on to win and then they proceeded to lose to the Chicago Blackhawks in the Finals.
However, in hockey there is a precedent for it, even in baseball it’s happened, but never in basketball. I would love to see this happen, but I don’t see it happening.
The Celtics have just been the clearly more dominant team in this series.
Prediction: Sixers win game four, but Celtics close it out at home and win in five. At least it won’t be a sweep.
Sixers Play Great and Still Lose
The Sixers played great in Game Three and somehow still lost. Embiid was dominant, Simmons was better and they hit their shots. The problem, the Celtics stuck with them and hit their shots as well and were able to win in overtime in a highly contested battle.
The Celtics simply have the better team right now, and maybe that will change next year, but that’s just the way it is right now. The Sixers have made some adjustments since Game One, but not enough to win a game, playing 48 minutes.
Brett Brown Cost Sixers Game Two
The key game in this series was game two. The Sixers got blown out in Game One, lost a closely contested battle in Game Three, but there is no reason at all why the Sixers should have lost Game Two, except Brett Brown. I don’t mean to be so hard on the guy, but I have to point out two blatant mistakes that he made. The Sixers were up 22 points at one point in the second quarter, and like most teams in the NBA do, the Celtics started to go on a run. As soon as they cut it to 12 points, Brown should have called a timeout. You have to stop the bleeding at that point. This is a young Sixers team, and you can’t simply let them play through it. Maybe with a more veteran team, but not this team. That was case number one that he made a mistake in.
Case number two is you have to leave T.J. McConnell in the game at the end. Simmons was having a terrible game, and I understand you may need to do it for his confidence, but you also need to win that game. T.J. was playing great, and the team was playing great with him. In fact, they were up by four points when he checked out and Simmons came back in, and then they go on to lose the game. I would put good money on it that if they replayed that game and T.J. stays in they win that game. Those are my observations. It’s unfortunate, but what I wrote in my preview piece a week ago about Brad Stevens having the coaching edge in this series has definitely come to fruition.
Feed Embiid Down Low
The Celtics have no answers for Embiid defensively and he needs to get even more touches, even if he doesn’t shoot it, it just opens up so much. Embiid had 22 points on 10-26 shooting in Game Three, which isn’t a great percentage, but a bunch of those misses came outside the paint. The Celtics cannot cover Embiid when he gets down low, and all they can do is foul him or double him and make him pass to the open man. I believe Embiid should get more touches in Game Four if the Sixers are going to win, especially on the block, and then the Sixers have to move around with him with the ball and not just stand there and watch. Don’t be surprised if Embiid drops 30 points in Game Four in a victory.