The Philadelphia 76ers visit the new Garden in Boston for Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Here’s 3 Things To Watch For:
1. Fast break points
Like the Chicago series, the key for the Sixers will be getting as many easy points as possible against an elite defensive team. The Bulls gave the Sixers opportunities because they charge the offensive boards more than nearly any other team, and the Sixers took advantage. The Celtics, meanwhile, are the anti-Bulls in that regard. Their offensive rebound rate (the percentage of available rebounds the offense grabs) was the lowest in the NBA by far. Instead, they shoot a lot of jumpers and get everyone back on defense.
So that will make this task much more difficult for the Sixers. They’ll have to run at every possible opportunity and convert when they can. Missing layups will be the death of the Sixers. If they can’t run on rebounds, they can on turnovers then. The Celtics were a below average team both by turnovers and, more importantly, by turnover rate. They have to force as many turnovers as possible, because that is the best chance to run, and running is the best chance for scoring.
2. Defensive assignments
I’ve noted the whole Avery Bradley thing already – who he defends will likely determine how the Sixers run their offense, because he is actually that much of a pest defensively. If he’s on Jrue Holiday, look for an Evan Turner-centric offense. If he’s on Turner, look for a Jrue-centric offense. Bradley’s that good. Though Rajon Rondo isn’t bad at all himself defensively, he’s the one the Sixers will want to attack.
There’s one match up that has me very intrigued, though. In a perfect Sixer world, Jrue Holiday and Ray Allen would be attached at the hip for the entire series. Ray Allen is the best in NBA history (yes, I think he’s better than Reggie Miller) at running around screens to get an open jumper. Holiday is the only 76er capable of staying with a opponent running rampant around screens on a consistent basis. But since Allen comes off the bench, it will be difficult for Doug Collins to match them up against each other. How do the Sixers keep this favorable match up in play while also giving Jrue some much needed rest during games?
It’s a conundrum that arised only because Doc Rivers moved Ray to the bench (and he obliged). These aren’t the 2008 Celtics anymore, and they’ve done what they can to stay at the top.
3. Can a hobbled Iguodala shut down a hobbled Pierce?
In yesterday’s season-in-review post, I noted that Paul Pierce actually had success during the regular season against Andre Iguodala. Now, both are dealing with injuries. Iguodala has the nagging Achilles injury which limits his explosiveness, while Pierce has a sprained MCL. Neither is 100%. The question is whose injury is worse, really. If Pierce is sufficiently hobbled, I can’t imagine him having a good offensive game. However, if he’s okay, we know that Iguodala can only do so much running.
Unfortunately, the schedule-makers gave them no help. They have only a day to rest before this game and the next. So this can be a trend throughout the series.