Posted by Royce Young
The Celtics have slipped quite a bit in the last couple weeks. They've gone from the top of the East to now the three-seed.
And come April 16 when the playoffs start, they may really regret that.
There are a number of things for them to be a bit anxious about, most notably the health of Shaquille O'Neal, but setting themselves up for a first-round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers is surely worrying Doc Rivers and Danny Ainge.
They lock up again tonight, but so far this season, while the Celtics are 2-1 against the pesky Sixers, the three games have been decided by a total of just eight points.
Why do the Celtics have such issue with the young 76ers? To me, it's simple: The Sixers can play any game the Celtics want.
What makes the Sixers so dangerous is that they're absolutely capable of beating the Celtics at their own game. Philadelphia can slow it down and play 48 minutes of grind-it-out basketball. The Sixers can put the weight on their defense to get stops. They can beat the Celtics in a 85-83 game.
However, I can't see the Sixers beat the Celtics four times at their own game. Once, yeah. Twice? Maybe. Three times is pushing it.
Philadelphia will have to make a tactical adjustment against Boston to really press last season's Eastern champs. The 76ers have the ability to speed up the older Celtics. Much in the same way Oklahoma City really pushed the Lakers by using their athleticism, versatility and speed, the Sixers need to make the old men in green move.
The Sixers are much more athletic than the Celtics with players like Jrue Holiday, Thaddeus Young and Andre Iguodala. And they've got to utilize that in order to push Boston. Like I said, Philadelphia is capable of playing the Celtics game, but the best approach for the Sixers if they truly want to challenge Boston it to make the Celtics adjust to them.
Philly doesn't play especially fast at a pace of 91.2, but that doesn't mean they can't go up tempo a bit. Finding easy baskets in the halfcourt against Boston isn't easy, so utilizing Young's versatility, Iguodala's freakish transition ability and a playmaker like Holiday is key.
What's really turned things around for the Sixers after an atrocious 3-13 start is a renewed committment to defense, but also coach Doug Collins trust of his younger guys. Collins knew Holiday had the ability to be a very good starting point guard, so he put the ball in his hands and let him go. He convinced Iguodala to settle into more of a role rather than playing the star. He started getting some production out of the awesome talents of Young. And Elton Brand has really rediscovered himself as a quality power forward.
(One thing that must be mentioned: The Sixers aren't going anywhere without Lou Williams. He provides such a punch off the bench and really gives Philly quite the second unit. He said he hopes to be ready for the playoffs and he better be if the 76ers have any dreams of actually pushing the Celtics.)
Across the board, the Sixers have the ability to match up with Ray Allen, Paul Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Rajon Rondo. Where they have struggled and will continue in the future against Boston is finding points. That's why playing a bit quicker and looking to move the ball up the floor rather than setting up in the halfcourt could help. Playing small with Brand at center, Young at power forward, Iguodala at the 3 and with Holiday and marksman Jodie Meeks really gives the Celtics a difficult matchup, especially if they want to play Shaq.
The Sixers could eliminate Shaq (though he might be eliminated because of a bum heel already) just by using their versatility. The Sixers kind of hold the cards in the matchups. But they can't beat Boston in a series playing in the halfcourt.
I get the feeling the Sixers have Boston's full attention and it would probably be in the Celtics best interest to go ahead and move up to the two-seed and avoid the young 76ers altogether.