The Sixers are very good. No one will deny that.
The Sixers have been very lucky. This is something that should also be taken into account.
Philadelphia got fat on all the cupcakes they were served at the end of their regular season schedule. They, impressively, did what a good team was supposed to do in that situation, but the low quality of their competition could not be denied.
They won as Cleveland struggled, and rose to third seed while the Cavs flailed their way down to fourth. They managed to avoid LeBron James in the playoffs and face a Miami Heat team with Hassan Whiteside playing the type of basketball that had him out of the league after two years. They also faced Miami “fans”…
“When we were in Miami … the gym was half-empty,” Sixers reserve Ersan Ilyasova said after the team’s practice. “But when you go to Boston, you will feel it. Even in the regular season, you know when you play that team, the arena is full, and they’re really committed fans.”
[…] “It’s always tough to play at their place,” Ilyasova said. “It’s always crowded, and we have to come up with a lot of energy and edge to win the game.”
Again, Philly did exactly what they were supposed to do in all of these situations. They were the better team and they summarily dispatched the competition as a good team should.
But it’s been a long time since these Sixers have faced a high level of adversity. The young and talented Process confirmers have spent a long time being comfortable on the floor.
Now things are about to change for them.
Boston presents their most significant challenge to date. The now-consensus “team to beat” has to start a series on the road against a hostile crowd.
Let’s be clear… every generation of Celtics fan holds some scorn for Philly. The oldest of old school goes back to the days when Wilt patrolled the paint in his PHILA jersey. There are some who remember the Dr. J-Larry Bird fight or Allen Iverson vs. Paul Pierce. And then there are some who just have a strong distaste for Hinke’s process.
Boston doesn’t like Philadelphia. Philadelphia doesn’t like Boston.
Tonight, the Sixers have to take off their plush slippers and comfy robes and put on work boots and hard hats. They have to deal with a crowd that will drown out their coach. They have to deal with an energy that has a tendency to suck players in and play faster paced hero ball in an effort to “shut them up.”
And they have to do it all while facing a team that just so happens to match up well with them despite their injuries.
Horford can defend Embiid. He can switch onto Simmons and defend him too. The Celtics have length on the wings and the Swiss Army Knife Marcus Smart who can be deployed anywhere on the court.
The Sixers will get a shock to start the game. They will be hit like they haven’t been hit in a long time. They will feel things they haven’t felt in ages. It will be very different that anything they’ve been used to.
Maybe they’ll still be good enough to get past Boston. They have a ton of talent and their roster is built to complement their top stars.
But they won’t win without feeling it. There’s no cruising anywhere in this series. And if their youth betrays them, the Celtics will soon be changing a lot of minds.