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Sixers still capable of beating Celtics despite failing to close Game 1

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In the words of Donovan McNabb, the Sixers “showed their youth” Saturday night in 92-91 loss to the Celtics in Game 1 of the second round of the NBA Playoffs.Sixers still capable of beating Celtics despite failing to close Game 1. Photo: US Presswire

The loss was indeed heartbreaking, but one that even the most diehard Sixers fan could see coming after the half. The Sixers missed a combined thirteen consecutive shots from the end of the first half until a little less than halfway through the third quarter. They had a 13-point lead, and they let it slip away. They had a ten point lead going into the fourth quarter, and coughed that up, too.  

Experienced teams who are competing for a championship don’t play like that. It didn’t help that the Celtics’ Rajon Rondo and Kevin Garnett seemingly took on the Sixers by themselves, with Rondo notching a double double Garnett added 29 points. Closing a game with Rondo, Garnett, Ray Allen, and Paul Pierce on the other side of the court is no small task. These guys did win a championship a few years ago. They thrive on crunch time late in the game when it counts.

In saying that, I firmly believe that despite the Game 1 loss, the Sixers are still capable of beating the Celtics to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Will they?  Remember, I said ‘capable.’  Here are some ways they can.

1. This Sixers team HAS to learn how to close: Simply put, the Celtics can do this with their eyes closed, and it was a major advantage in the fourth quarter Saturday night. The Sixers were 3-12 this year in games in they led or trailed by five points or less in the last five minutes. Lou Williams was completely shut out in the fourth quarter, shot ill-advised jumpers, and just looked out of synch. Meanwhile, Boston capitalized on EVERY chance possible. It’s no small task, but Jrue Holiday has to do a half decent job of containing Rondo on the defensive side of the ball while overcoming  inconsistent shooting on the offensive side. Call it on the job training, but this is where boys become men.

I still maintain the biggest issue here is that the Sixers truly don’t have a No. 1 option late in the game. Everybody plays hot potato, and this will eventually be the team’s downfall. Just look at the Celtics, who pretty much have four go-to guys.

2. Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young HAVE to play better:  When the series started, you would have thought the Celtics matchup benefited both Brand and Young. It’s only one game, but so far the results were not encouraging. Brand, who is looking more and more like a $17 million dollar role player, scored four points in just 15 minutes. Young, who was playing with a shin and ankle injury, had five points in 22 minutes. If the Sixers want to even sniff the next round, these two must play better, or it will be a very short series.

3. Try to contain Ray Allen and Paul Pierce: It’s easier said than done. Or is it? Kevin Garnett was money in Game 1 with his 17-foot jump shot, but Pierce, who is playing with a sprained MCL in his left knee, and Allen, who is fighting bone spurs in his ankle, went a combined 7 for 21 from the field in the series opener. As long as Garnett is consistent from the field, chances Pierce and Allen will be freed up if Garnett is double teamed. These guys are older and banged up. Law of averages says they’re not going to get better as they get deeper in the playoffs. However, it’s still Ray Allen and Paul Pierce. Andre Iguodala has done an admirable job of defending Pierce in the past, and he’ll have to continue to do so if the Sixers even stand a chance of beating Boston.

Yes, all of these seem like a pretty tall order. As we saw from the first round against Chicago, sometimes you need a little luck. Deep down, the Sixers believe they let a game slip away. The Celtics’ big four aren’t going anywhere, so we should find out what this Sixers team is really made of in the next couple games.


Contact Joe Vallee at jvallee@philly2philly.com

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