Let's face it, the Sixers are a laughingstock. If you don't believe me, set up a search on Twitter for "sixers" and spend your day getting constant updates from the teeming masses with gems like "Dem Sixers ain got no chance. lolz. smh. (sic)." Tonight is the only time most of those people will take the time to watch the Sixers. Tonight is the only time most of the national basketball writers will watch the Sixers. If the Sixers want to open eyes around the league, tonight might be their only chance of the season.
Unless you're lucky enough to be a terrible team with a flashy player, like the Clippers and Wizards, relevance in this league is only gained through winning. In the Sixers case, it didn't even come with back-to-back trips to the playoffs. It takes more than that for people to take you seriously. But we aren't talking about being taken seriously, we're talking about people paying a little bit of attention, nationally.
Four wins in five games should've probably gotten a little bit of play on ESPN, but not after their atrocious start to the year on the heels of a 27-win debacle. Five wins in six games, though, with the fifth coming over the mighty Bostonians? Well, that may rate a 90-second segment on SportsCenter. Hell, that may even lead to ESPN's "expert analysts" actually watching some film before they say stupid things like Jrue Holiday is playing out of position at the point.
A win on the national stage tonight should open some eyes, right? Well, let's take a look at how they might just be able to get it done.
First of all, on paper and probably on the hard wood, the Sixers have no business winning this game. The Celtics hold a decided advantage at 4 of 5 positions on the floor. Their bench has been big for them this year. They've got a coach and system firmly in place and they're no longer on cruise control through the regular season after realizing home court in the playoffs might actually matter last year in Los Angeles for game 7 of the NBA finals. The Celtics are taking these games seriously.
If the Sixers are going to win this game, I don't think it's going to have a whole lot to do with x's and o's. It's going to be guttural, instinctual, athletic and frenzied. Boston is a good team, possibly a great team when they're on full rest, healthy and properly motivated, but they do have a weakness, hubris. They have this air of "we're the Celtics, don't you know you can't beat us?" They like to hit their opponents in the teeth, then spend the rest of the game letting their mouths do the talking. They like to pile on, they like to rub it in, they like to tell you how great they are. If you allow them to, you're sunk.
The only way to shut a bully up is to get right back up and punch him in the face. Whenever Boston delivers a blow tonight, the Sixers need to answer back, immediately and demonstrably. The Celtics are great, but they're old. The Celtics can be a well-oiled machine, but that machine played a game last night and had to travel while the Sixers slept in their own beds. Every time Shaq pushes Hawes out of the way for a monster dunk, the Sixers need to quickly inbound the ball and push it up the floor. Nothing phases them. They need to be relentless. Make Boston sprint back on defense on every single play, make or miss on their end. Make Paul Pierce and Ray Allen work on defense. Make Nate Robinson handle the ball against extreme pressure. Make Shaq earn his points at the line. Make Kevin Garnett taste the hardwood a couple of times. Make Rajon Rondo take jump shots.
The Sixers can't come into this game with a "let's just play our game and let the chips fall where they may" attitude. They need to come into this game with a relentless mindset. Trim the rotation, stay athletic at all times on the floor. Run, run, run some more and whenever you get the inkling of an opportunity, dunk on someone's head. I don't want to see jumpers, I want to see guys driving hard to the hole and initiating contact. I want to see Iguodala crossing over Paul Pierce's creaky knees. I want to see Elton Brand physically pushing Kevin Garnett around on the blocks. I want to see Thad leaving Garnett and Big Baby in his dust as he drives from the foul line. I want to see Lou Williams putting senseless fouls on Nate Robinson and I want to see the Sixers running Rajon Rondo into pick after pick on the perimeter. He's their engine. He's the only inkling of youth in their starting five, make him play a physical game on both ends.
If the Sixers come out passive, they're going to be buried early and then the Boston hype machine will have all the fuel it needs. Never let these old bastards catch their breath. Attack, attack, attack.
When the dust settles, chances are this type of effort still won't be enough, but when you play like that it's infectious. If you can put together 48 minutes of action and energy against Boston, you can do the same against anyone. More importantly, you can look yourself in the mirror and honestly say, "I belong. We belong." And maybe, just maybe, a couple of those national guys will nod their heads when the game is over and say, "Hey, maybe Philly's worth some attention after all."
Prediction: Eff it, Sixers 97, Celtics 95. This is the night when they finish on the right side of a close one.
The tip is at 8pm, on TNT. I'll be right here throughout and then after the game Derek and I will be hosting an episode of SixersBeat. Tune in here at 11 p.m. Eastern for a post-game like no other.
Minutes played by Boston's starters last night:
- Garnett - 31
- Allen - 36
- Pierce - 37
- Rondo - 30
- Shaq - 21
Fun Fact: Boston is 3-2 on the second night of back-to-backs so far this season, 14-2 when they have at least a day's rest. The Sixers have played seven back-to-backs already, with many, many more to come.