You think things couldn’t get any worse? Try being a Raptors fan.
There are problems, to be sure. But I still think the Sixers win the next four games. Why? Reasons:
They will actually play three out of the next four at home, including the next two, for which they will undoubtedly be energized. They are 9.5-point favorites on Saturday. 9.5!
The layoff before Game 1 hurt them. And I always thought the additional two-day break before Game 2 did more to help the Celtics – an extra day of rest (helloooooo Jaylen Brown) after playing every other day for five games – than the Sixers. Now that script is being flipped. Game 3 is 40 hours after Game 2. The Sixers are home, in front of what promises to be a raucous crowd that will spend Derby Day drinking. The series then goes Monday-Wednesday-Friday-Sunday. The Celtics don’t look like they have tired legs now, but they sure will if this series goes 6 or 7.
Shooting sustainability. The Celtics began their descent back to Earth, shooting only 45% overall and 41% from three, but it certainly feels like they made more. They seem to hit all of the big shots and daggers. Indeed they hit 46% of their threes from the mid-point of the second quarter on. That won’t continue. The Sixers are due for a torrid shooting night, and we won’t see Ben Simmons do this again:
And despite all of the negatives, the Sixers led in the fourth quarter only to fall behind after inserting one of their two best players into the game and following a questionable charge call against him. Again, these are things that shouldn’t happen.
Brett Brown absolutely needs to make adjustments, but the Sixers remain the better team, with the series moving back to Philly, where they are unquestionably, literally money. That line is insane and tells you Vegas still loves the Sixers.
Now, before we get to concerns, let’s qualify this with something: The Sixers are playing with house money. They are well beyond the point we thought they’d reach. It is difficult to criticize a team for falling short of a spot they weren’t expected to get to in the first place. Unlike the Flyers in the 90s, the Eagles from 2003-2005, and the Phillies in 2010 and 2011, the Sixers are not yet champion contenders. So while it was fair to skewer those teams for their eventual shortcomings, the Sixers are a different story entirely. This isn’t the group with which they expected to do battle, but it just so happens that circumstance and their own success has them out ahead of schedule. Therefore, take these following critiques with a chaser, because I’m not trying to take shots at them.
Brett Brown. I could use more adjustments. When the Heat junk up the top of the key area behind the three-point line, where the Sixes run so many hand-off type plays and Simmons typically starts his drives, or the Celtics sit back and casually absorb your pick plays, you have to come up with a way to free up shooters in other spots. I could do without seeing players rubbed out (phrasing?) on picks at the elbow and Simmons winding up in no man’s land at the free throw line– too deep to initiate offense, too far to shoot.
Ben Simmons. I’ve said multiple times on the podcast that I find it unfair to criticize Simmons for his lack of a jump shot. We knew this coming in and, despite frustrations, nothing has changed. However, for someone who fancies themselves the next great one, he has to identify and work on this weakness. Having a reliable jump shot – not talking three-pointers, rather just being able to make an open look – would take him from great to superstar. That is, without question, the thing holding him back, because if nothing else it would open up other elements of his game. So then I find this exchange while playing video games with Karl-Anthony Towns a bit concerning:
People are like you need to score to be a better player. Yo, my team scores like 40 points off my assists. Like, just appreciate what I do.
Now, I’ve said a lot of things while playing video games that I prefer not to be held accountable for, but this does represent at least some feeling on the part of Simmons that being an elite passer is somehow enough. I don’t have a problem with him not having a jump shot, but I do have a problem if he doesn’t want to find one.
Intensity. The Sixers have been put on their heels by both the Heat and Celtics. It was masked by virtue of their five-game win over the Heat, but the signs were there from Game 2 on– they lack the urgency that both the Heat and Celtics have displayed. Sure, it was covered up by the talent disparity in the first round. Like a yorkie fighting a pit bull, no amount of aggression was going to chance the outcome for the little guy, but the Heat were noticeably more physical and put the Sixers back on their heels quite a bit. This observation needs no explanation for this series. The Celtics seem to want it more, plain and simple. Maybe it’s an element of an inexperienced team making their first playoff run. Maybe the Sixers started smelling themselves a bit. But more energy and urgency is needed in Game 3. They’re not the 95 Bulls– shrugging off two playoff losses where you were favorites is not a privilege the Sixers have earned.
Problems, yes. Coaching adjustments needed? Yes. Ben Simmons showing a bit more alpha male? Yes. The whole team playing with the energy TJ McConnell shows? Yes. But the Sixers are better. Shots will fall. Home crowd will help. And winning four games in a row is within reason. Sixers in six.