Why 76ers can’t breathe easy with 3-2 lead over Celtics

May 9, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) controls the ball while Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) defends in the first half during game five of the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
May 9, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Philadelphia 76ers guard James Harden (1) controls the ball while Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) defends in the first half during game five of the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers are in position to go to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001. On Thursday, the Sixers face off against the Boston Celtics in a pivotal Game 6 of their second-round series. Things seem to be looking up for Joel Embiid, James Harden, and the rest of current Sixers players and a franchise that has bad playoff juju consistently through the 21st century. Despite that, the Sixers cannot breathe easy with their 3-2 lead over the Celtics because the Sixers have returned to the Wells Fargo Center with an advantage once in this series and the Celtics will be desperate to save their season.

The Sixers are returning to South Philadelphia to play in front of the Sixers faithful with their latest series lead in the second round in the ‘Process Era’. Just about a week ago, the team was in a similar situation. Philadelphia returned to their home court with a split in Boston that flipped home court advantage to them for the series. Well, that was until the Celtics came into the ‘Fargo’ to gain an ugly win and reclaim control over home court.

76ers must prevent repeat of Game 3

The Celtics came into Philly with the intention to play spoiler after Philly fans were feeling great after taking a game in Boston without Joel Embiid. At this point in the series, the Sixers cannot repeat their Game 3 performance against the Celtics. The game was close throughout and was in position for the Sixers to take the win but untimely mistakes cost them the victory. Philly has to be prepared to play defense at the highest level and defend the three-point line.

Joel Embiid has the rim covered as progressively throughout this series the Celtics have noticeably gone away from the MVP center. In particular, Boston’s two stars, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have been spooked from attacking due to Embiid’s rim protection. In the Celtics series, Embiid is averaging 3.25 blocks per game. Back to Game 3 though, the Sixers cannot repeat this performance that allowed Boston to take eight more shots, score eight more points in transition, and 11 second chance points.

The Sixers were also careless with the basketball in the game, having 13 turnovers to Boston’s 12. James Harden had three to four turnovers in the first half and Joel Embiid had three turnovers total in the game. Giving a team like Boston extra opportunities is exactly what a team doesn’t want. Of course, no team wants to allow that stuff in the playoffs but especially against Boston because of how many guys they have that can make shots.

The 76ers will face a desperate Celtics team

The Boston Celtics will be desperate coming into the game with their season at stake. This Celtics team has a lot of history of succeeding in the playoffs and pushing through adversity. For example, last season the Celtics found themselves in a similar predicament. Boston dropped Game 5 of last year’s second round series against the Milwaukee Bucks and eventually went on to take the next two games to advance to the Easter Conference Finals.

Boston has players that embrace being the villain or playing spoiler. The most obvious examples of those players on the Celtics are Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart. Both guys have much different ways of going about it. Brown likes to play the seldom spoken masked villain and Smart likes to be as physically annoying as possible. So be prepared for Marcus Smart “gamesmanship” early, often, and throughout the game because we know the referees are bound to miss something of his. But Brown’s cold-blooded shot-making demeanor and Smart’s controlled chaos will be two of the main catalysts in Boston’s efforts to win the game and tie the series.

Then there’s the second line of Sixers’ spoilers coming to push the team over the top for a win in Jayson Tatum and Al Horford. The two have ties to the Sixers for tormenting the team for years. I think as a fanbase, Sixers fans have not accepted the pick swap between Philly and Boston in the 2017 NBA Draft. That’s just one reason for fans to root against the 25-year-old All-Star. Al Horford has so much ire from Sixers fans due to his incredibly unpleasant season with the team in the 2019-2020 season. Tatum can play spoiler by continuing to be the great player he is, so naturally that will soil the vibes. Horford can play spoiler by playing like he’s Al Horford of three years ago, Al Horford on the 2015 Atlanta Hawks, or Al Horford on those Florida Gators that won national championships.

Boston is a team that has been in this spot before. That is half of the battle as at least the team has a reference point to pull from to execute the high-pressure plays that are needed to push the series to seven games. The Philadelphia 76ers cannot squander an opportunity to close Boston out on their home floor. A series win is something that will be meaningful for the organization, Joel Embiid, and the fanbase. In the wise words of head coach Doc Rivers to the Sixers, “Don’t play with your meat”.