With the Celtics and the Sixers pretty much simultaneously rebuilding their respective rosters, each team has gone a different route. It appeared that the Celtics were going to TRY and tank during Brad Stevens first year, and they were bad, but that one down year was the only one Stevens would endure as he quickly adjusted to coaching NBA players. The Sixers- well they were historically awful, but they had a plan, and that plan was to stockpile as many top three picks as possible until they find a star or stars to build their roster around. The Celtics haven't had as many high picks as Philly, but landing Marcus Smart with the 6th pick in 2014 has been huge because of his defensive prowess, and the addition of Jaylen Brown with the 3rd pick last summer was also a huge boost for the Celtics roster. Philly landed all types of good players during this time- Nerlens Noel, Joel Embiid, Jahlil Okafor, Ben Simmons, Dario Saric...etc...and clearly they've built something that is going to be good for years to come.
Here's the thing though- the Sixers landed top picks by tanking and sinking to the bottom of the league. Boston refused to tank, made smart trades to land players like Isaiah Thomas and Jae Crowder, signed talented, high character big men in Al Horford and Amir Johnson, and continued to develop the talent they already had in-house, specifically guard Avery Bradley and forward/center Kelly Olynyk. Now Boston has a strong roster, they are second in the East, and because of the genius trade with the Nets in 2013, Boston will most likely land THREE top three picks from the awful Nets, so basically they have a team tanking for them while they continue to improve and win. Because of shrewd trading and not holding onto the past, Danny Ainge has been able to build his team through every facet of transactions, and he also has the luxury of controlling the draft for the next two years. Yes, Philadelphia's plan is coming to fruition and they are going to be a great team for about a decade, but compared to the Boston rebuild, they were light years behind the creative and risky Danny Ainge. Both teams have gotten to where they wanted to get, but I guarantee Boston fans had a much more enjoyable experience rebuilding than the angry Sixers fans.
Now that we've given you a history lesson, let's talk about what transpired last night. The Celtics welcomed a banged up Philly team to Boston, but regardless of injuries to their two best players, they were up for the challenge. Unfortunately for the Sixers, so were the Celtics.
The Sixers showed that their size and length is going to be something that gives the Celtics problems for years to come. Regardless, Boston finds ways to score, but in the first half, they couldn't find a way to stop the Sixers, specifically Robert Covington, who scored 16 of his 18 points in the first half; he left the game early in the fourth with what appeared to be a head injury from chasing a loose ball. Dario Saric led the Sixers overall with 20 points and 11 rebounds, showing the talent that had so many general manager throughout the NBA salivating over his skills; he's a natural fit with this long Sixers team. Boston was led once again by their diminutive superstar point guard, Isaiah Thomas. Thomas struggled in the second and third quarters, but as he usually does, he exploded for 13 of his game-high 33 points in the fourth quarter, leading the Celtics to a hard-fought 116-108 victory.
The game was a shootout from the start, with the teams tied at 29 to end the first. The second quarter was a carbon copy of the first- not a lot of defense, lots of Celtics turnovers (24 total on the night), and the teams were tied at 61 heading into halftime. It was clear what Boston had to do to win the game- value their possessions more, limit offensive rebounds, and start playing more engaged defense. If they did those three things, they would win the game. Clearly they got the message at halftime, winning the third 26-18, opening up an eight-point lead that would turn out to be the decisive eight points in the ball game. Marcus Smart ignited the Celtics in the third quarter, and he finished the night with 21 points, five assists, and a career-high eight steals.
The Sixers battled back, taking the lead for a short time with eight minutes to go in the fourth, but Isaiah Thomas went into fourth quarter mode and took over, scoring the next nine points to give the Celtics a 101-99 lead. Al Horford was called for a flagrant foul on a moving screen (his elbows were too high), and Noel tied it up at 101. After that, it was all Celtics as they went on a 13-2 run and put the game away.
The Sixers have given the Celtics trouble in every game this year, but Boston has learned how to win tight games, another product of the different type of rebuild they've gone through. The Celtics and the Sixers rivalry appears to be back on track, but the young Sixers are still a year away from being able to compete with teams like Boston.
Boston (37-19) travels to Chicago tonight to take on the Bulls, who are currently the 7th seed in the East and would play Boston if the playoffs started today.
Philadelphia (21-35) heads into the All-Star break after last night and will return next Friday when they host the red-hot Wizards in Philadelphia.
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