It sure must feel good to be in Philadelphia right now. After the Eagles won Super Bowl, the Sixers are making noise in the NBA and Meek Mill got released from prison.
Calling Philadelphia Sixers Eastern Conference Final candidates goes beyond the mere fact the young side has made it to the second round of the playoffs. After all, a surprise second round side like New Orleans Pelicans isn’t generating much conference finalist buzz like Philadelphia.
That has to do with Pelicans path to the finals which go through Golden State Warriors land and the inevitable decline of its splendid production from the roster’s fringe members. With Sixers, it has to do more with the team’s versatile and excellent talent and a little regarding the unpredictable opponent it faces in the next round.
Philadelphia is set to play either Milwaukee Bucks or Boston Celtics in the second round; Boston leads the series 3-2. Looking at the way the series has played out five games in, Celtics have the edge to make it beyond the first round.
The home sides have won all games in the series and Game 7 will be played in Boston unless the Celtics muster a big win in Milwaukee. Irrespective which team comes out of the series, it is difficult to bet against Sixers beating them to fight for the conference’s title.
Winners of the Washington Wizards-Toronto Raptors series and Cleveland Cavaliers-Indiana Pacers series will battle in the other bracket.
Matched up against either Milwaukee or Boston should present fewer challenges to Sixers as Brett Brown’s men have what it takes to deal with the upcoming opposing team.
For Boston, there is no Kyrie Irving or Gordon Hayward due to injuries. Had injuries not set in five minutes into his career in Boston, Hayward ideally looked to be the team’s top scorer with Irving’s 24.4 points in a close second place. Despite the return of Marcus Smart who channeled his inner Draymond Green by registering nine points, four assists and five rebounds in Game 5’s win, Boston is still short of great bench production.
Unlike Celtics, Sixers can heavily rely on Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli to score at will while Markelle Fultz chips in a couple of points and assists as he continues to grow into the talented scorer he was back in college. Ilyasova and Belinelli were the reasons Philadelphia consistently pulled away in the second half in first round games against Miami Heat as the veteran duos three point shooting threat proved too much to handle.
Sixers also easily win the individual matchups in the starting unit as the second year duel between Jaylen Brown and Joel Embiid goes to Embiid. The Cameroon native is enjoying himself on the court in his first playoffs with solid production and doing great things with first year sensation Ben Simmons who became the first rookie to register a playoffs triple double since Magic Johnson.
Simmons is heavily expected to win Rookie of the Year Award ahead of Celtics Jayson Tatum. JJ Reddick has been influential with his game and veteran attitude guiding the young sixers past Miami. Boston’s elder statesman Al Horford has done very well but failing to clinch a crucial win in Milwaukee thus far puts his side in another tough matchup. While Milwaukee has a present MVP contender and a future MVP winner in Giannis Antetokounmpo, the Bucks post season run is limited by his underwhelming jump shot.
Khris Middleton has come through as a borderline All Star player in the series but progress or regress fall on the broad shoulders of the Greek Freak Giannis. Antetokounmpo was shackled by Semi Ojeleye to the tune of 16 points in Milwaukee’s loss in Game 5; matched up against Embiid’s brilliant balanced game on both ends of the court, Giannis could be in for a big challenge. Boston looked good to be in the spot Philadelphia occupies at the moment heading to the playoffs before Irving’s surgically repaired knee got infected taking him out of the season.
Only a couple of years separate Sixers from winning only 10 regular season games and 28 the following year to achieving 52 in the just ended regular season and on the brink of a deserved final since last making it in 2001 with Allen Iverson.
Philly also should have Mother Nature on its side at the moment as the team recovers from a grueling series against Miami, Milwaukee and Boston could play each other on two more possible occasions. That should definitely aid Sixers Conference finals quest.
By Yaw Adjei-Mintah
@YawMintYM on Twitter