8:00 PM ET, TNT – Line: 76ers -1, Over/Under: 204.5
A pivotal Game Five serves as the lone action of the night, as the Philadelphia 76ers look to stave off elimination once more as they travel to TD Garden to face the Boston Celtics, who with a win will advance to their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals. As hot as the 76ers (52-30, 3rd in Eastern Conference) were heading into the Playoffs, closing the Regular Season out with a stellar 16-Game Winning Streak, and handing the Miami Heat a Gentleman’s Sweep (4-1) in the First Round, the party has for all intents and purposes stopped in this Series with the Celtics, who above all else have exposed this young team’s inexperience and immaturity. The biggest issue for Brett Brown’s charges has been on the offensive end of the floor, where they’ve been very disjointed due to their inability to take care of the basketball, or more particularly Rookie of the Year Candidate Ben Simmons’ (15.8 PTS, 54.5% FG, 8.1 REB, 8.2 AST, 1.7 STL, 0.9 BLK, 20.0 PER) inability to take care of the basketball. As a team, the Sixers have committed Forty-Five Turnovers through the first Four Games of the Series, though that number is a bit misleading, for with the exception of Monday Night’s 103-93 victory in Game Four where they coughed up the rock just eight times, they’ve committed Thirty-Seven Turnovers or in other words, 12.3 per Game. Simmons, who has played well beyond his years throughout his Rookie Campaign, has really struggled in this department, dishing out just Six more Assists (26) than Turnovers (20) thus far against Boston. Brown made an interesting decision in Game Four, inserting an unlikely hero, TJ McConnell (6.3 PTS, 49.9% FG, 43.5% 3FG, 3.0 REB, 4.0 AST, 1.2 STL, 12.5 PER), into the Lineup for just the second time all season, sparking the Offense with Nineteen Points on 9-of-12 Shooting (75.0%) along with Seven Rebounds and Five Assists in nearly Forty Minutes of action. This may be a case of too little, too late for Philly, for with McConnell on the court in this Series, the 76ers are a resounding Plus-31. While they continued to struggle shooting the ball (40.4%), particularly from beyond the Arc (7-of-26, 26.9%), they managed to get quite a bit out of their Supporting Cast, with Dario Saric (14.6 PTS, 45.3% FG, 39.3% 3FG, 6.7 REB, 2.6 AST, 0.7 STL, 15.8 PER) scoring a team-high Twenty-Five Points on 9-of-17 Shooting (52.9%) to go with Eight Rebounds and Four Assists, while Joel Embiid (22.9 PTS, 48.3% FG, 30.8% 3FG, 11.0 REB, 3.2 AST, 0.6 STL, 1.8 BLK, 22.9 PER) and the aforementioned Simmons combined for Thirty-Four Points on 12-of-30 Shooting (40.0%), Twenty-Six Rebounds, and Seven Assists. Another problem that this team has faced in this Series is that the Pace has slowed down considerably; against Miami, the Pace of Play consisted of 99.6 Possessions per 48 Minutes, but against Boston the number of Possessions has dropped precipitously to an average of 93.5 Possessions per 48 Minutes. As a result, the Series has been contested largely in the Half Court, with Fast Break Points at a premium; even in Game Four’s victory, there were just Nine Fast Break Points between the two teams, with a mere Three Points for Philadelphia. We’ve spoken about the Turnovers, but this has also really hurt their shooting from Three, with the likes of JJ Redick (17.1 PTS, 46.0% FG, 42.0% 3FG, 2.5 REB, 3.0 AST, 0.5 STL, PER) and Marco Belinelli (13.6 PTS, 49.5% FG, 38.5% 3FG, 1.8 REB, 1.6 ST, 0.7 STL, PER) finding it very difficult to find room to get off their shot. As a team, the Sixers have shot just 34-of-115 from Downtown in this Series, or in other words a dismal 29.6%, with that aforementioned pair of snipers netting just 16-of-47 of their Attempts (34.0%). Simply put, this team needs to get out in Transition and push the Pace of Play as much as possible, for they are far more easier to defend standing still, though it doesn’t look like Boston is going to allow them to do so anytime soon.
Meanwhile, if there was ever a team in the Playoffs that is playing with House Money, it would have to be the Celtics (55-27, 2nd in Eastern Conference), who despite playing without arguably their two best players and struggling to put away the Milwaukee Bucks in the First Round, nonetheless stand one win away from returning to the Eastern Conference Finals for second straight year. Based off of their relative health heading into the Postseason, nobody really gave Boston much of a chance to make much noise, with some predicting they would be upset by Milwaukee in the First Round, which very nearly came to pass; Brad Stevens’ charges really had to sweat that one out, folks, going the distance before dispatching the Bucks in Seven Games, with neither team proving capable of drawing blood on the other’s Home Court. Fortunately, their Depth and Organization (particularly on the defensive end) guided them to this next stage, though you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone bullish on them against Philadelphia, who after eliminating Miami had been on a stretch in which they won Twenty out of Twenty-One Games. With prized Free Agent Acquisition Gordon Hayward having missed the entire term due to a broken foot he suffered on Opening Night, and All-Star Point Guard Kyrie Irving (24.4 PTS, 49.1% FG, 40.8% 3FG, 3.8 REB, 5.1 AST, 1.1 STL, 25.0 PER) ruled out for the Playoffs after undergoing surgery to relieve swelling and soreness in his knee, the proverbial deck was indeed stacked against them. However, this is precisely why they play the games, folks. If you completely separated yourself from all of the circumstances surrounding both teams, you would probably think that it was the Celtics and not the 76ers that had been on such a tear, for they have absolutely OWNED this Series. This has been a masterclass performance from Stevens and his Staff in dominating a Series by simply dictating the Pace of Play; in keeping Philly confined to the Half Court they’ve completely derailed their opponent’s Offense, while the young faces that have sporadically emerged throughout the season to fill the void left by Irving and Hayward have been at the forefront over the past four contests. Six different players have averaged Double-Figures in Points in this Series, with another Rookie, Jayson Tatum (13.9 PTS, 47.5% FG, 43.4% 3FG, 5.0 REB, 1.6 AST, 1.0 STL, 0.7 BLK, 15.3 PER), stealing the spotlight, leading the team with 23.3 Points on 52.4% Shooting from the Field, including 31.6% from Downtown, along with 3.5 Rebounds, 3.0 Assists, 0.5 Steals, and 0.8 Blocks. Furthermore, Terry Rozier (11.3 PTS, 39.5% FG, 4.7 REB, 2.9 AST, 1.0 STL, 15.1 PER ) has continued to do his best Irving-Impersonation, with 19.5 Points, 7.5 Rebounds, 5.0 Assists and 1.3 Steals, while knocking down a stellar 43.8% from Downtown. As a team, Boston has owned a significant advantage from long-range, drilling 37.6% of their Attempts from Three, while outscoring the Sixers by Fifty-Seven Points over the course of this Series. With that said, it’s difficult to ignore how they’ve made their counterpart pay time and time again for turning the basketball over; in the first Three Games of this Series, which were all Celtics’ victories by the way, Stevens’ troops harassed the 76ers into Thirty-Nine Turnovers and parlayed that figure into Fifty-Two Points, or in other words 17.3 Points per Game. In Game Four, the Hosts succeeded in flipping the script, turning over Boston Fifteen Times for Sixteen Points in comparison to just Three Points off Eight Turnovers for the Visiting Side.