The 76ers and Celtics will tip-off at 8:00 tonight, on national television, the world that stays home on Saturday nights will be watching, and one team will advance and one team will go home. It’s all or nothing.
Here’s some music to get us going:
Anyway, listen to that while reading the rest of the preview, or just listen now and keep reading when you get the theme out of your head.
The Celtics have been on this stage, in their current incarnation, on multiple occasions. Led by Doc Rivers and their 4 stars, the Celtics have been here and done that. For all but three current Sixers (only one rotation player), this is their first appearance on this stage. Boston has the experience edge, but the Sixers have the advantage of not knowing any better.
One thing the Sixers have going for them is health. Everyone that they want to play will be in uniform – yes, that means the Brackins will have no shot of being unleashed. The Celtics have been ravaged by injuries all year, starting with Chris Wilcox, then progressing to including Jermaine O’Neal and now Avery Bradley. Ray Allen is playing with bone spurs in his ankle. Paul Pierce has fought a strained MCL. For the Sixers, Elton Brand has a shoulder injury that he is nursing. The active players with injuries got a break in the extra day off, but none will be fully healed by tonight.
Also, there is the factor of Boston being at home. I mentioned in the staff roundtable preview that the Sixers would need to hit shots, be it jumpers or foul shots, because they simply won’t get the calls in the paint. For this and other thoughts on the game, you can find a link to the staff preview here.
But one thing I want to talk about is how far this team has come. During the regular season, this team was all over the place. To start, the team was 20-9, had the league’s best point differential, and was talked about as the third team in a Chicago-Miami-Philadelphia battle at the top of the Eastern Conference. Every peripheral had the Sixers being even better than that relatively impressive record. They had potential, young talent, and were a genuinely exciting group of young players. Then the wheels fell off, as we all know.
The low point happened, in a game where the Celtics could take control of the Atlantic Division, in Boston on a weekend (well, Sunday) night. The Celtics had all the momentum. The Sixers were reeling, having fallen two games behind the once dead-in-the-water C’s. And the game did nothing to change that. The Sixers looked like they called it a day before the game even started. The Celtics came out sharp and won 103-79, taking complete control of the division in convincing fashion.
I’m reminded of that game every time I post on this site, when opening the WP dashboard, because I left my initial recap unfinished. I was so disgusted with the effort that I could not stand to write about the game itself. It was also the first game I completely turned off. I figured I’d mail in the rest of the year, not caring what happened or even whether or not the Sixers could make a postseason, because it seemed the team would do the same. Tear it down after the year, I proclaimed. They’ll miss the playoffs, I yelled.
Yet, after 25 NBA teams have gone home for the summer, our Sixers are still there. They bounced back. Yeah, they were very fortunate along the way, and if not for luck and others’ misfortune, they wouldn’t be here. But when given the opportunity since the regular season collapse, the Sixers have taken advantage. They beat an injured Bulls team in 4 out of 6 games. They’ve forced a wily, elderly Celtics team to a Game 7. The Sixers have achieved a lot, and by seeing that unfinished product I can see how far they’ve come. No matter the result of tonight’s game, we have a team we can be proud of.
We can be proud of Jrue Holiday, who at times has masterfully taken games over. We can be proud of Andre Iguodala, who has hit every big shot he has taken and dutifully defended the opposing team’s best perimeter player the entire game without complaint. We can be proud of Evan Turner, who has shown no fear at any moment, even if it has been detrimental to the team at times. We can be proud of Elton Brand, for struggling through injuries and being reduced to a shell of himself but still fighting for his team. We can even be proud of Spencer Hawes, who, many (including myself) forget, made the difference in two first round wins. We can be proud of our bench guys for always showing up and accepting their roles. And we can be proud of Doug Collins, Michael Curry, and the rest of the staff for making everything work.
So when watching tonight, the only real thing to watch for is, whether they win or not, to appreciate what they’ve done and to enjoy the ride.
And finally, one more inspirational song, a bonus track if you will. Of course, it’s also Rocky-themed.