It looks like Kevin Garnett will miss tonight's game between the Sixers and the Celtics, which is too bad for them. It's taken me a few days to move past the Nets debacle, but I'm ready now. For me, tonight's game needs to be about sending a message to the Celtics, and I'm not just talking about a "We're a good team," message. I'm talking about "We're a bad team," message. I'll explain after the jump.
Think back to the last time these teams met. You remember the game, the Sixers got their doors blown off in Boston, the Celtics spent the entire game talking trash and Eddie House shot a three at the buzzer with the Celts up by 16 points. At the time, I ended my post game with the following quote, "At some point this season someone will get into a fist fight with the Celtics. I'm hoping someone knocks the smirk off Eddie House's face when it happens."
Well, it hasn't happened yet, but I'm really hoping the Sixers remember that game when they take the floor tonight. I'm not calling for a fist fight, what I am calling for, however, is an attitude. The Celtics think they're the biggest, baddest team on the planet. They think they can talk trash and play their game and no one is going to stop them. Tonight, the Sixers have to put their foot down. Here's how.
Every time Rajon Rondo drives to the hoop, he winds up on his ass and has to earn his points from the line. The guy is a 63% free throw shooter. Foul him, and foul him hard whenever he has an opportunity to convert a layup. Eventually, he's going to get tired of scraping himself up off the floor and either get shy or start taking jumpers. Either way, the Sixers win.
Eddie House is allergic to the lane, so you can't use the same method to get to him. Instead, when House is in there I want to see two things. Number one is hard, hard picks on the exterior. Whether it's Evans, Speights, Sammy or Brand setting them, I want House to feel them. Finally, with House, I want him taken down to the post for punishment. Whoever he's guarding (outside of Lou) is going to have a tremendous size and strength advantage. Isolate that side of the floor and get him down low. You can do a lot of physical damage backing your way to the hoop.
Overall, the Sixers need to play a tough, physical game. It goes beyond Rondo and House, there should be a no-layups policy across the board. They're going to have to switch and recover on the pick and roll, stick with Ray Allen on the perimeter, keep Leon Powe off the offensive glass, and find the shooters, especially House, in transition.
The Celtics do not do a good job of taking care of the ball, Rondo, Pierce and Perkins all average over 2 turnovers/game. The Sixers should be able to get out and run.
One wrinkle Boston may throw out there is a zone defense. Typically, the zone is broken by three-point shooting, but something I saw in the last game against the Nets stuck with me. When the Nets went to the zone, the Sixers ran a play where the ball was swung from side to side on the perimeter, as the defense followed the ball, the top two defenders in the zone inched out toward the three-point line. This created a soft spot in the zone, right at the free throw line, similar to the soft spots football teams find in zones over the middle. Twice, Marreese Speights flashed into that soft spot and got a wide-open 14-footer. You can make a living off those shots and I'd like to see that play run for both Speights and Brand.
Speaking of Brand, without Garnett in the lineup, the Celts really don't have a guy who's going to give him problems with his height. He should be able to do some serious work in the post. Expect doubles and hope the Sixers can make them pay for them.
At 23-23, it would be great to see the Sixers get above .500 for good against the defending champs. It'll be equally important for them to erase the memory of the Nets game. I saved the stats for last because they're bleak, take a look if you dare.
The tip is at 7 p.m. and I'll be here, as usual. Join me in the comments for discussion if you're watching as well.
It looks like Sammy is a go. No word on whether Brand will return to the starting lineup, so I'm guessing no.