Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Series Recap: Where did it all go wrong for the Sixers?

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Brett Boyle reviews the Celtics’ sweep of the Sixers in the NBA Playoffs, discussing what went wrong for Philadelphia and what went right for Boston.

The Boston Celtics have completed the first sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers in the franchise’s long rivalry for either team. This was the first time the Sixers have been swept since 1999. There really is not a lot to say in regards to the games themselves. I thought the Sixers had a real chance to win game 1…then their usual clutch time struggles came to light. It honestly never really felt like it was possible for the Sixers to win any other game this series, even game 4 which shows a four point loss on the scoreboard, never felt close. The Sixers were completely outmatched. The better team won.

What Went Wrong?

The Sixers game plan did not work and the roster construction of this team never gave them a chance on the defensive end. Brett Brown played with different roster combinations but could never find a way to effectively guard both of Boston’s elite wings while not having to sacrifice on the offensive end.

Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum completely ran over the Sixers and specifically Al Horford all series. This is not Al Horford’s fault. This is a matter of Boston having athletic guys that can play the four and Horford having to defend outside the paint. Horford has been a natural center his entire career and is an excellent defender when played in that role. The issue became trying to match the Celtics small lineup with one of your own, while having one of the tallest rosters in the league. It simply does not work.

Speaking of Al Horford, he and Tobias Harris, who will be paid a combined $289 million over the next five seasons, never showed up for Philadelphia. Neither guy even made a three pointer until game 4 and they ended the series combining for a 22.8 PPG average. That would be good for one of these guys to average, but both? Absolutely unacceptable. What makes this lack of production worse is that Harris averaged a tick over 37 minutes a game, while Horford averaged a tick over 32 minutes a game. All of that time on the court with no impact offensively, leads to a lot of bad for the whole team.

Josh Richardson may have been the only nice surprise for the Sixers in this series, as he averaged a team second best 16.8 PPG. Richardson played great defense against Tatum and was the best ball handler for the Sixers. I would like to note how he is getting paid ~$11 million for the next three seasons – an absolute bargain. Richardson along with Joel Embiid and Alec Burks were seemingly the only players on the Sixers capable of scoring (did Korkmaz even make a shot all series?).

The last big note I saw was on the defensive end. The Philadelphia 76ers, throughout the entire run under Brett Brown, have struggled with defending pick and rolls. The pick and roll is one of the oldest and most basic plays in basketball history, however is still one of the most effective plays when ran correctly. What the pick and roll isn’t, is unguardable. It is so incredibly frustrating to watch this team consistently get burned by pick and rolls year in and year out. The Sixers have two centers capable of defending the rim. They have athletic wings capable of switching off. They have a relatively versatile lineup that can defend a lot of different positions. So, how is it that in games 2-4 we continued to see Kemba Walker get wide open mid range jumpers? That is a rhetorical question. It is truly dumbfounding.

So…Where Do The Sixers Go From Here?

The Philadelphia 76ers have fired head coach Brett Brown after seven memorable seasons with the team. I want to thank Brett Brown publicly for all he has done for this franchise. He stuck with it and was a constant professional through his entire time in Philly, even up to his firing where he shouldered blame for the sweep. This was an obvious decision, but not even close to the full problem.

It is truly remarkable how quickly the 76ers have burned through all of the stashed cap room and draft picks left behind by Sam Hinkie. Bryan Colangelo was awful and a disgrace of a GM, but current general manager Elton Brand has arguably been even worse. I have looked back at all he has done since his appointment and have come to the conclusion that the best move he has made was acquiring Alec Burks and Glenn Robinson III from the Golden State Warriors for three second round picks that will in all likelihood be very late second round picks.

It’s pretty depressing if you are a Sixers fan (like me) and the best move your GM has made in over a year is a depth add at the trade deadline. Brand signed an aging Al Horford to a massive contract, did not offer Jimmy Butler a max contract or convince him to stay, and instead gave that max deal to a 28 year old Tobias Harris.

Say what you want about these moves, but they were certainly gambles that have since imploded. The worst move of all was the trade he made to get Tobias Harris in the first place. Harris was an impending UFA who the Clippers were not going to be able to resign. Brand moved recent first round pick Landry Shamet, Philadelphia’s own protected 2020 first-round pick, the Miami Heat’s unprotected 2021 first-round pick and the Detroit Pistons’ 2021 and 2023 second-round picks for Harris. It is rather depressing (have I said that before?) to see how much he overpaid for a player that averages under 20 PPG.

Elton Brand is not going anywhere and has quite the mess to clean up. Despite how poorly he has done so far, this is still salvageable. It is my sincere hope that he can figure this out and that the remaining front office members from the Colangelo regime soon follow Brett Brown out the door. Anyone else miss “the process” days? Simpler times back then.

What’s Next For The Boston Celtics?

I haven’t really touched much on the Celtics in this article, because it is just more fun to talk about negatives (Sixers) as opposed to positives (Celtics). The Boston Celtics will face the Toronto Raptors in round 2 of the NBA playoffs. The defending champions are coming off a sweep of their own, taking care of the Brooklyn Nets.

Boston is a team that has been slept on for a good while. They are brought up in the conversation when the NBA analysts discuss the Eastern Conference but never really given much of a chance. I say, why not? This team has good depth, a rising superstar, a very capable surrounding cast, and one of the best coaches in the league. Brad Stevens knows how he wants his team to play and masterfully executes his game plan. He is one of the best coaches I have ever seen at making in game adjustments and this is something he will have to continue to do against the Raptors.

The Celtics will continue to rely heavily on Brown, Tatum, and Walker while asking a lot of Marcus Smart on the defensive end. Gordon Hayward will hopefully be able to return towards the end of the series or certainly next round, should the C’s advance.

Looking back on the regular season meetings between these two teams, the Celtics actually had a 3-1 record against Toronto with two of those wins by 15+ points. I see a lot of similarities between these teams. They both have depth, both are very well coached, and both have a defense first mentality. I fully anticipate this to be a relatively low scoring, hard fought series. The Kemba Walker v. Kyle Lowry matchup will be very fun to watch, and expect Tatum to match up alot against Siakam. I personally am really looking forward to this series, and will take the Boston Celtics to come out on top in seven games.

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