September 21, 2023

Right Where We Wanted Them — Sixers-Celtics Games 1-5 Observations


Photo by Jim Davis/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

An up-and-down Eastern Conference Semifinal series against the Boston Celtics currently has the Sixers leading 3-2, and one win away from their first ECF appearance since 2001.

A series that has included a little of everything so far has certainly provided Sixers fans with heartache, elation, and pretty much every other emotion that can be felt.

Let’s look at some observations from the series thus far:

This Team is Different

Do you remember past Sixers teams and how they would not show up when the lights shined brightest (it’s been all over twitter so clearly yes)? Well, this team does not just feel different than past Sixers teams, they are different.

Take game 4 for example. The Sixers led by as much as 16 late in the 3rd quarter, before unraveling in the 4th. They found themselves down by 5 points with under 2 minutes to go. They would proceed to get a 2-pointer by James Harden, an and-one by PJ Tucker after an offensive rebound, and a layup by Harden to force overtime. In OT, they found themselves down by 2 with under 20 seconds left before a catch-and-shoot Harden 3 from the corner. Philly then got the stop they needed on defense and evened up the series at 2 games apiece.

While you could easily look at that game and say “They should have never been in that situation to begin with,” another way of viewing it is that this team never folded like they would have in the past. Take Game 5 vs the Hawks in 2021 as an example. The Sixers looked defeated as Atlanta made their run in the 4th quarter of that game, and it showed in their body language. This year, in that same type of scenario, you’ve got PJ Tucker screaming in the ear of the MVP to be more aggressive, and the MVP responding.

This carried over to game 5 as well. The Sixers looked like they meant business on Tuesday night. They were not wavered one bit by the fact that they were the road team in a pivotal game 5, a situation the 76ers had never won in franchise history, or by the fact that everyone and their mother in the national media thought the Celtics would win.

They put their heads down and just straight-up attacked the Celtics all night, controlling the pace and cutting off any sort of runs Boston tried to put together in the 2nd half. There is no way any of that would have happened in past seasons. Case in point, the Sixers lost by 36 in Toronto with the series tied 2-2 in 2019.

Besides Embiid, Who Else Steps Up?

You pretty much know what you’re going to get from Joel night in and night out (unless of course he hasn’t played in 13 days and has a huge brace on his knee to boot). So the question becomes, who else can have a big night beside the big man?

In game 1, it was James Harden. With no Embiid harden went off for 45 points, tying his playoff career high, and putting the Sixers up 1-0 with a pull-up 3 over Al Horford with 8.4 seconds to go. De’Anthony Melton also played a crucial role in the win, scoring 17 points and hitting his first 5 shots from beyond the arc.

In games 2 and 3, nobody stepped up other than Embiid, and the Sixers, no surprise, lost both games.

In game 4, it was Harden again. The Beard started out on fire in the first half as the Sixers got out to a 9-point halftime lead. In the 3rd, he extended the lead even further with some big-time buckets. And, of course, hit the game-winner once again in overtime, en route to another 40+ point performance, this time 42, by the man whose only career knock on him was that he couldn’t come up clutch in the playoffs.

Game 5 saw the reemergence of Tyrese Maxey, who, after scoring 26 points in game 1, only scored 40 points over the next 3 games. Maxey dropped 30 points in game 5, including 6 threes, one of which put the Sixers up 95-81 early in the 4th, as the Boston crowd desperately tried to egg on their team to a comeback.

And of course, you cannot talk about game 5 without mentioning Danuel House Jr. A player who had only seen minutes in garbage time, or in the waning seconds of quarters with the Sixers looking for a defensive stop, came off the bench and scored 10 points to go along with 5 rebounds. House Jr. also played some incredible perimeter defense against Boston’s best players when the Sixers needed it.

In game 6, the Sixers will need one, or maybe even two or three, other players to step up not named Joel Embiid, as the Celtics will be desperate, but confident, considering they faced this exact scenario last season against the Milwaukee Bucks and ended up winning that series in 7.

Fans, Isn’t this What We’ve Wanted?

I have seen far too much negativity from Sixers fans after going up 3-2 in this series. While it is understandable, given this franchise has given us so much disappointment over the last 2 decades, we also are in a situation that we all hoped for at the beginning of the series.

Nobody thought that, if the Sixers would win this series, it was going to be easy. So shouldn’t the fact that we are up 3-2 be exactly where we want to be?

Teams that win game 5 of a series tied 2-2 have gone on to win the series 82% of the time. History is in the Sixers’ favor, and not to mention we’re the team with all the momentum, and have game 6 at home in what is bound to be an absolutely raucous Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
The Sixers look like the fresher and more determined team and have so much going for them ahead of a potential close-out game in South Philly. This is exactly where we wanted to be at the beginning of this series, so the negativity is a bit confusing.

So, instead of worrying about being let down, let’s focus on the fact that in less than 24 hours, the Sixers can advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in front of their home crowd for the first time in 22 years.

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