In the early 1980s, the time of J. Moses Malone and Maurice Cheeks, one Philadelphia 76ers player stood out against the Boston Celtics.
Andrew Toney, a shooting guard who could score just about any way imaginable, always dominated the Celtics, especially in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, where he averaged 26 points per game.
Due to his prowess against the Celtics, Toney was dubbed “The Boston Strangler.”
Toney beat down Boston to the extent that following that season, the Celtics made a trade for Dennis Johnson, the NBA’s premiere defensive player, just to slow Toney down.
That was then. In the current rivalry-reigniting series between the Sixers and Celtics, the boys from Beantown don’t have to worry about a new Boston Strangler.
The Celtics currently have a 2-1 series lead over the 76ers after two hard-fought games in Boston and one embarrassing blowout in Philadelphia that proved the Celtics are the better team with the better players, although Game 1 didn’t look like that.
In the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Sixers were riding high after a thrilling series win over the Chicago Bulls. They jumped on the Celtics early and were able to keep them at an arm’s length for most of the game, but they were unable to pull away. The Sixers were led by Andre Iguodala with 19 points, but they could not stop veteran power forward Kevin Garnett, who finished with 29 points, or Rajon Rondo, who had himself a triple-double, which has become somewhat common for him. The Sixers won the first 44 minutes and lost the last four as they fell 92-91. When it comes to playoff basketball, those last four minutes are usually the most important.
Game 2 was a reversal from Game 1, as the Celtics jumped out to an early lead. The Sixers were able to contain Rondo, Garnett and Paul Pierce while getting big games from Jrue Holliday and Lavoy Allen, who was once again favored by head coach Doug Collins over Elton Brand.
Brand is like the guy who brings a six-pack of cheap beer to a party and then drinks from the keg of expensive microbrew all night. He hasn’t contributed to the Sixers playoff party at all this year. He looks old and tired and is no match for Garnett.
The Sixers were able to squeak out the win in Game 2 with Evan Turner coming to life down the stretch, hitting a circus-shot layup and then two clutch free throws. Garnett hit a three-pointer at the buzzer as the Sixers went on to win 82-81.
For the Sixers to win this series, they need to get out in the open court and run, run, run. It is very difficult to do this when the other team isn’t missing shots, though.
In Game 3, the biggest home playoff game the Sixers have had in nine years, the Celtics never gave the Sixers a chance to run because they didn’t miss any shots. The Sixers were humiliated at home 107-91.
Basically, the Sixers didn’t score and didn’t play any defense. Now, I’m no Kenny “The Jet” Smith, but I can tell you that’s not a good way to win a basketball game.
It looked like the Celtics were tired in the first quarter, and Rondo, realizing he is the best player in the series, was able to drive the lane and score to keep the Celtics close in the first. After that, Garnett and Pierce came to life, too, and it was over. If the Sixers can contain two of the Celtics’ big three, they have a good chance of winning, but in Game 3, Pierce had 23 points, Garnett had 27, and Rondo had 23. The Sixers never took the lane away from the Celtics all night, so scoring around the rim was plentiful. On the other hand, the Celtics forced the Sixers to take jump shots, and you don’t need to be a “Doc” to know that the Sixers don’t have anyone who can consistently knock them down.
Speaking of Doc, Celtics head coach Doc Rivers spent so much time in referee Derrick Stafford’s ear May 16 that if the rent is affordable, he might as well just get a futon and actually live in there.
The good news is that the Sixers have another chance with home-court advantage May 18. The Wells Fargo Center will be packed once again with fans eager to see a Sixers win. Whether or not the team can produce is another story.
The Sixers need to contain Garnett, Pierce and Rondo and try to get out in the open floor. Production from center and power-forward positions would also be nice. When you don’t have the personnel to match up, you need to play inspired basketball to have a shot.
The deeper this series goes, the more it should benefit the Sixers because, although it has yet to be seen, the Celtics are an aging team, and at some point in the playoffs their years will catch up to them.
A big win in Game 4 would be the boost the Sixers need to get a stranglehold on these Boston Celtics.