Celtics-Sixers preview: Don't be fooled by Philly

Celtics-Sixers preview: Don't be fooled by Philly


You hear a lot of talk these days about how the Celtics have the cushiest of cushy schedules to close out the season, a schedule that’s chock full of teams that have spent the bulk of this season getting their heads beaten in.
 
Of the Celtics’ 13 remaining games, nine are against teams at .500 or worse.
 
Still, for folks like me who have watched a lot of these bad basketball teams play this season, which includes way more Sixers basketball than any human should consume, there’s a narrative surrounding most of them that’s undeniable.
 
The way they are playing now is better – a lot better in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers – than their pitiful record might suggest.
 
While the Celtics will be favored to beat Philadelphia this afternoon (Vegas has the C’s as a five-point choice), would anyone outside of New England be surprised if the Sixers came away with the victory?
 
And despite Philly’s struggles, they play Boston about as tough as any team in the league.
 
The Celtics has won each of their three games this season against the Sixers, but only by a total of 13 points which speaks to how the games between these two has been closer than Boston certainly would want.
 
And unlike previous matchups, in which the Sixers seemed to be more about developing players than doing what was necessary to win, it’s clear that Philadelphia isn’t satisfied with just competing with teams anymore.
 
Dare we say it, the Sixers are (gulp)...trying to win games?
 
Philadelphia is coming off a 116-74 win over Dallas, one of the franchise’s most lopsided wins in nearly a decade.
 
And they’ve taken teams that - on paper - they are overwhelmingly overmatched against, down to the wire, evident by a 106-104 loss at Golden State earlier this month.
 
“You've got to give this team a lot of credit," Golden State’s Draymond Green said recently. "They're going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they're missing [Joel] Embiid and Ben Simmons and they're really on their way."
 
Embiid, whose season was shut down after just 31 games (he missed each of the two previous seasons entirely due to injuries), was a dominant force when healthy. He led the Sixers with 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
 
Ben Simmons, taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Sixers last June, has not played in a single game this season due to injuries but, he too, is a player with promise.
 
Their absences have helped fellow Sixers rookie Dario Saric emerge not only as a key cog in Philadelphia’s growth, but also one of the front-runners for the NBA’s rookie of the year award, along with Embiid.
 
Still, as much improvement as we’ve seen in Philadelphia, the Celtics have shown they too are making progress towards being more than just one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
 
With Isaiah Thomas (knee) out, his absence has allowed others an opportunity to thrive.
 
Jae Crowder is coming off his seventh double-double of the season in Boston’s 98-95 win at Brooklyn on Friday. He had season-highs in scoring (24 points) and rebounding (12) as the Celtics (44-25) won their third straight with their East-leading 21st road victory of the season.
 
That means for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics will have a winning record away from the TD Garden.
 
When asked by CSN’s Abby Chin about the difference playing without Thomas, Crowder responded, “More shot opportunities; for real, seriously.”
 
This season, Crowder averages 9.8 field goal attempts per game. In the five games Boston has played without Thomas, his field goal attempts rises to 10.6.
 
More telling is how Crowder, a 13.5 points per game scorer this season, increases his scoring output to 16.2 points per game sans Thomas, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
 
With Thomas out, Crowder and several other Celtics will surely be looked upon to step their game up.
 
Despite Philly’s record, their play of late and the confidence they have with wins in two of their past three games, makes today’s matchup a game that Boston should win, but it will not be easy.


 

Stars, studs, and duds: Bradley lone bright spot in Celtics' Game 5 loss

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Stars, studs, and duds: Bradley lone bright spot in Celtics' Game 5 loss

BOSTON –  The Boston Celtics’ season is officially over following their 135-102 Game 5 loss to the Cleveland Cavaliers. Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from the game. 

 

STARS

LeBron James

He was indeed the ultimate closer once again, leading all players with 35 points on 13-for-18 shooting with eight rebounds and eight assists. 

Avery Bradley

Not the way he would have liked the season to end, but Bradley once again showed great leadership in the face of adversity. He led the Celtics with 23 points on 10-for-20 shooting with four rebounds and an assist. 

Kyrie Irving

Boston continued to struggle keeping him from being extremely efficient scoring the ball. He had 24 points on 9-for-15 shooting with seven assists. 

 

STUDS

Kevin Love

Most of his points came early in the game, a trend we saw most of this series with him. He finished with a double-double of 15 points and 11 rebounds along with three assists. 

Deron Williams

His scoring in the first half was among the keys to Cleveland pulling away and never looking back. He had 14 points for the game on 5-for-6 shooting.

Jae Crowder

He didn’t shoot the ball particularly well (3-for-8 shooting), but you had to love his toughness and rugged play not just in Game 5 but in this entire series. He had 11 points and six rebounds to go with three assists. 

 

DUDS

Kelly Olynyk

They needed him to have a “Game 7 versus Washington” kind of night, and that just never materialized. He had seven points while missing six of his eight shot attempts.

Marcus Smart

Aside from Game 3 when he made seven 3’s, Smart didn’t maximize his opportunity to be a suitable replacement for the injured Isaiah Thomas. Game 5 was another rough one for Smart who had six points on 2-for-7 shooting with five rebounds and two assists with five turnovers.

Celtics season comes to an end with Game 5 loss to Cavs

Celtics season comes to an end with Game 5 loss to Cavs

BOSTON – The final horn sounded and for the second time in three years, the Celtics faithful saw their team’s season end at the TD Garden at the hands of the Cleveland Cavaliers.

But this was different.

Two years ago, the Celtics were just lucky to be on the floor with the Cavaliers who had no problem sweeping them out of the postseason.

This time, things were different.

Cleveland had their way with Boston, but had to work harder – much harder – than they did a couple years ago.

And that more than anything else, is clear and undeniable evidence that the Celtics are on the come-up even after their season ended with a 135-102 Game 5 drubbing.

They lost the series four games to one, most of which were played without their most dynamic player, Isaiah Thomas (hip) who came into the postseason as the top scorer in the Eastern Conference.

Boston did lots of good things in this series, but it served as a reminder that the Celtics aren’t quite ready for the bright lights and big-game performances needed consistently this time of the year to win.

LeBron James’ reign in the NBA is far from over, but it’s clear as day that the Celtics are positioning themselves to be one of the favorites to eventually unseat the Cavs.

Boston’s regular season record (53-29) was the best in Brad Stevens’ four years on the job, good enough to go into the postseason with the top overall seed.

But as we saw time after time after time, regular season records mean little if it comes void of the superstars most of the elite teams have in waves.

The Cleveland Cavaliers did as expected in eliminating the Boston Celtics and in doing so, move on to the NBA Finals for the third straight season where they will face a well-rested Golden State Warriors club.

Celtics Nation serenaded the players as they walked off the floor who were disappointed but should have walked off with heads held high.

Why?

Because in the end, they gave the fans exactly what they wanted – everything they had to offer.

And for most of this season, it was good enough to not just compete but win a lot of games that few outside of the Celtics’ payroll anticipated would result in a victory.

In Cleveland, the Celtics ran into the ultimate buzzsaw.

Not only were the defending champions playing their best basketball in the playoffs, but they were healthy both mentally and physically – something they could not lay claim to during several stretches during the regular season.

Meanwhile, the Celtics dealt with injuries throughout the season.

There were the usual bumps and bruises.

And then there was Isaiah Thomas’ right hip injury which he played through after re-aggravating it at the end of Boston’s second-round series with Washington.

But it proved to be too much for him to deal with which led to the Celtics shutting him down for the playoffs at halftime of Game 2.

Boston managed to win Game 3 and had opportunities galore to get Game 4 only to come up short in large part because they didn’t have an offensive closer – a player who could fill the void left by Thomas’ absence.

In Game 5, the Cavaliers managed to find areas to exploit most of the first half as they pulled ahead to dominate the action.

And the Celtics, a team that without Thomas relies heavily on ball movement, timely cuts to the basket and the need to knock down open shots, simply failed to once again take advantage of the opportunities – and there weren’t many – the Cavs afforded them.

Game 5 had the look and feel of Games 1 and 2, when Cleveland came into the TD Garden and had their way with the Celtics with a pair of wins by a combined 57 points.

Cleveland began Thursday night’s game with a 28-12 run, capped off by an emphatic dunk by LeBron James who blew past Terry Rozier.

Celtics head coach Brad Stevens called his second time-out of the quarter, a clear sign of his concern – and justifiably so – that the game could quickly get out of hand as was the case in the first two games.

And with more than two minutes to play, the Cavaliers had a commanding 36-26 lead after a Kyrie Irving lay-up in which he was fouled by Rozier.

Cleveland continued to pull away in the second and third quarters as Boston’s defense showed little resistance.

And when they did, the Cavs just went around and over them, resulting in an overwhelming performance that Boston had no answer for, home court or not.

It was another beatdown at the hands of the Cavs, but there was a different vibe following this one.

Two years ago, there was no telling what the loss meant to a Celtics team that at the time, was lucky to be in the playoffs.

This season, there was no luck at all in Boston being one of the last four teams with games on the docket.

They deserved to have this opportunity, one that’s likely to come around a few more times in the near future as Boston continues to strengthen a young core with more talent and experiences like what they went through during this Conference Finals against Cleveland.