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May 27, 2012
Playoff Prospectus
Survive and Advance

by Bradford Doolittle


at Boston 85, Philadelphia 75 (Celtics win 4-3)
Pace: 90.1
Offensive Ratings: Boston 94.4, Philadelphia 83.3

GAME 1: at Boston 92, Philadelphia 91 ; Pace: 92.1; ORTG: Boston 99.9, Philadelphia 98.9
GAME 2: Philadelphia 82, at Boston 81 ; Pace: 90.0; ORTG: Philadelphia 91.1, Boston 90.0
GAME 3: Boston 107, at Philadelphia 91; Pace: 85.1; ORTG: Boston 125.2, Philadelphia 106.5
GAME 4: at Philadelphia 92, Boston 83 ; Pace: 89.5; ORTG: Philadelphia 102.8, Boston 92.8
GAME 5: at Boston 101, Philadelphia 85; Pace: 82.4; ORTG: Boston 122.5, Philadelphia 103.1
GAME 6: at Philadelphia 82, Boston 72 ; Pace: 85.9; ORTG: Philadelphia 95.5, Boston 87.3
GAME 7: at Boston 85, Philadelphia 75 ; Pace: 90.1; ORTG: Boston 94.4, Philadelphia 83.3 

There's a certain aspect of being an NBA fan that frustrating. Call it basketball puritanism. You like to think that a balanced team of good players can execute its way to high-level victories, even if it doesn't have a player starring in a black-and-white Nike commercial. While team basketball is and always will be key to winning championships in the NBA, so too is having one or two elite-level stars to carry you through the hard times. We've seen that truth manifest on both halves of the Eastern Conference playoff bracket and it's why, as much as anything, the Heat and Celtics are now gearing up to play for the conference title.

Game 7 was the style of game the Sixers wanted, but in the end they had no one to step up on offense, while Rajon Rondo exploded down the stetch for the Celtics. When Paul Pierce fouled out with 4:16 to play, the Sixers had the ball, down by just three points. They were in perfect position to pull off the improbable. Instead, Rondo scored 11 of the game's last 21 points, including all nine Boston points during a 9-2 run in the immediate aftermath of Pierce's departure. Rondo hit the only three field-goal attemps Boston needed to take over those last four minutes, while the Sixers went 3 of 10.

The Sixers just couldn't come up with any answers on offense, not getting enough shots at the rim and not shooting well away from it. Philadelphia was just 16 for 61 (26 percent) outside the immediate vicinity of the basket, yet was still in position to win if even a single player had caught fire. Philly had just six fastbreak points and if the 76ers hadn't managed 17 second-half points, the game would have been a blowout. Jrue Holiday, who was so effective in Game 6, couldn't get untracked, shooting 5 for 17 and getting just four looks in the restricted area. The midrange shots from Spencer Hawes that seemed to easy to get in previous games weren't going for the center on Saturday. Hawes missed all four of his jumpers and played just 18 minutes.

Through the series, the Sixers had been much more effective with Lavoy Allen on the floor than Elton Brand, though the minutes played for the two were similar. In Game 7, it was all Brand, who scored 15 points in 33 minutes before fouling out and was again outplayed by Kevin Garnett. Allen played 16 minutes and while his box score line was nil, the Sixers did outscore Boston with him on the floor. Allen's mobility and athleticism was the toughest matchup for Garnett, while Hawes' combination of size and midrange shooting were crucial parts of the Sixers' attack. Yet Brand and Thaddeum Young dominated the frontcourt playing time in the deciding game. Meanwhile, Hawes and Allen shared the court for just 26 minutes in the series, during which Philadelphia outscored Boston by 10 points.

There is already talk that the Sixers will shake things up in the offseason, and that's probably for the best. You get the feeling that Collins squeeze the absolute most he was going to get from his team. You might quibble with a move here or there, but in the end the Sixers beat a Bulls team decimated by injuries and an ancient Celtics squad that couldn't even manage a point per possession against them. We wrote before the season that the lack of an offensive star was the biggest issue on the Philly roster, a fatal flaw that was always going to limit its ceiling. We saw that ceiling on Saturday. In a situation screaming for a hero, the Sixers had no one to answer the call, while Boston simply shuffled through their collection of former All-Stars until Rondo stepped forward.

It's fairly dispiriting for fans of teams like the Sixers, who have done most things right in buidling its club except one, which is to give it largest salary slot to a true impact player. They seek to remedy that in the offseason. For the time being a second-round, seven-game loss to an archrival will have to do. But you know what? Given the last 10 years of NBA basketball in Philly, that's not a bad consolation prize.

(Note: Data from MySynergySports.com and NBA.com/Stats were used in this piece.)

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Bradford Doolittle is an author of Basketball Prospectus. You can contact Bradford by clicking here or click here to see Bradford's other articles.

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