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2012 NBA Playoffs: Eastern Conference Semifinal Preview (Celtics Meet 76ers)

Danny Lee |
May 12, 2012 | 11:43 a.m. PDT

Staff Reporter

Garnett is nearly 36, but still hungry for another title. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
Garnett is nearly 36, but still hungry for another title. (Keith Allison/Wikimedia Commons)
First team to 90 wins? That could be the type of series to look forward to when the Boston Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals at TD Garden.

Not many predicted this series to happen until Chicago Bulls point guard Derrick Rose's season-ending ACL injury changed the complexion of the Eastern Conference playoffs.

For the offensively-challenged 76ers, it evened the playing field in their first-round series win against a Chicago team that lost its only true creative scoring threat. For the Boston Celtics, it meant having a more favorable second-round matchup in which they get home-court advantage.

Game 1 starts tonight at 5 p.m. on TNT. Here are a few things to look forward to in this series:

Regular season series: Sixers won, 2-1

Philadelphia grabbed two regular season wins against Boston by a combined margin of 45 points. But it's worth noting that all three contests between the two Atlantic Division foes came on the second night of back-to-backs for the C's. Fortunately for Boston, there will be no games on consecutive days in the postseason, and that should give Doc Rivers' veteran players the rest in between games needed to stay fresh this time around.

How they got here

Boston squeaked out an 83-80 win on Thursday to knock out the Hawks in six games, thanks to veteran forward Kevin Garnett playing like it was 2004 all over again. Garnett, who turns 36 next Saturday, scored 28 points on 10 of 19 shooting to go along with 14 rebounds, five blocks and three steals in the decisive game.

Because of Rose's injury -- and later in the series, Joakim Noah's -- a ragtag Philly team lacking in superstars successfully knocked off the East No. 1-seeded Bulls to make its first second-round appearance since 2003. Sixers point guard Jrue Holiday averaged 18.2 points, 5.2 rebounds and 4.7 assists in the Bulls series, and the team will in all likelihood need him to maintain that pace in his looming point guard battle with Boston's Rajon Rondo.

Raging Rondo

Rondo had his double-figure assist streak halted at 28 games in the close-out win against Atlanta. But there's no reason to believe he won't start a new one against a 76ers team he has fared well against this year. Rondo averaged 6.0 points and dished out 13.3 assists per outing in the two teams' three regular season meetings.

Getting to know the Sixers

Philadelphia, along with the likes of Indiana and Denver, is helping disprove the notion that a team needs stars to have postseason success. How many casual fans can name the Sixers' starting five off the top of their heads? Exactly.

Between Philly's lack of star power and vanilla offense, it seemed like the league did its best to keep this team away from public viewing by relegating the Bulls-Sixers series to NBATV. But that's not to say the 76ers are short on talent. Head Coach Doug Collins' team boasts a pair of key contributors off the bench in Lou Williams and Thaddeus Young, who finished second and ninth, respectively, in voting for NBA Sixth Man of the Year. 

All-Star Andre Iguodala's matchup with Paul Pierce should be interesting to watch. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)
All-Star Andre Iguodala's matchup with Paul Pierce should be interesting to watch. (Keith Allison/Creative Commons)

Matchup to look forward to: Paul Pierce vs. Andre Iguodala

The small forward battle in this series will feature an interesting contrast between Boston's crafty veteran Pierce and Philadelphia's high-flying Iguodala, who was the Sixers' only player named to the All-Star team.

Iguodala could provide issues for Pierce on the defensive end, as the Celtics' 10-time All-Star broke the 20-point mark just once in their three meetings this season. Throw in Pierce's sprained left knee, which he has been battling throughout the Atlanta series, and that adds extra intrigue to this individual duel.


Avery Bradley (Celtics guard): The Celtics cannot match the Sixers' depth coming off the bench, so they will need the second-year guard Bradley to produce strong performances if Pierce and Ray Allen (right ankle) continue to be hampered by their injuries. Bradley, who is nursing injuries of his own, could be tasked with defending 6-foot-7 shooting guard Evan Turner, and sometimes called to switched onto Holiday when Rondo's not in the game.

Spencer Hawes (Sixers center): As for the Sixers, they will probably need Hawes to have more 20-plus point games like he had in games 3 and 4 against the Bulls, in order to find enough scoring needed to keep pace with Boston. Neither Hawes nor Elton Brand can slow down Garnett individually, so it will take a collective effort from Philly's big men to take KG out of the series.

Prediction: Celtics in six

For a team of vets who have accomplished so much individually like the C's core has done, it would be anti-climactic if Pierce, Garnett and Allen's final stand playing together came to an abrupt end against the eight-seeded Sixers. Philly's length and athleticism should make this series interesting, but experience will win out in this encounter.

Series Schedule:

Game 1: Philadelphia at Boston (Tonight, 5 p.m. on TNT)
Game 2: Philadelphia at Boston (May 14, 4 p.m. on TNT)
Game 3: Boston at Philadelphia (May 16, 4 p.m. on TNT)
Game 4: Boston at Philadelphia (May 18, TBD on ESPN)
Game 5: Philadelphia at Boston (May 21, TBD on TNT)*
Game 6: Boston at Philadelphia (May 23, TBD on ESPN)*
Game 7: Philadelphia at Boston (May 26, TBD)*

*If necessary


Reach Staff Reporter Danny Lee here.



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