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By the numbers: Seven points to watch for during 76ers vs. Celtics

05.12.12 at 9:05 am ET
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Can Philadelphia's Andre Iguodala be the 76ers closer against Kevin Garnett and the Celtics? (AP)

Sometimes results in regular season matchups translate to the playoffs. For instance, it wasn’t as shocking when the top-seeded Mavericks were upset by the eighth-seeded Warriors in the 2006-07 playoffs, because their regular season meetings gave an indication Dallas would have issues with Don Nelson’s small-ball lineups.

The lockout shortened 2011-12 season doesn’t offer the same insights. Celtics coach Doc Rivers feels there isn’t much to take away from the three regular season match-ups between his team and the 76ers.

“The two [games] in Philly we didn’t learn much,” Rivers said at practice Friday. “We got blasted in the first game especially. Regular season games, both of them are coming off back-to-backs and stuff like that. Those are tough games to gauge. We know how they want to play, they know how we want to play. It’s going to be a battle of that, who can establish the pace.”

Rivers is right. Philly handled Boston twice at home. The first game saw the Sixers thump the C’s, 103-71. The 32-point defeat was the worst loss suffered in the new Big Three era.

The second game in Philadelphia was played without Ray Allen and, to make matters worse for Boston, both Avery Bradley and Mickael Pietrus sustained injuries in the first half, keeping each out of action in the final 24 minutes. Following a competitive first half, the Celtics didn’t have enough firepower to keep up with the 76ers.

The final game, played in Boston, was the sole meeting the Celtics won and could be the best indication of what may transpire between the two teams since it was most recent. Still, even that game was played after both squads competed the night before.

With all those disclaimers and caveats laid out, there is still some merit to how the 76ers and Celtics played in their first round series. So let’s take a peek at seven playoff trends from each side.

1. Defense, Defense – It’s All About the Defense:

The Celtics and Sixers both pride themselves on the defensive end of the game. During the regular season, the two teams ranked second and third respectively in the league in points per game allowed. In the playoffs each team has amped up the defensive intensity even more.

The Celtics are only allowing 82.2 points per game, which is six points less than their regular season average and the toughest among all playoff teams. The 76ers are allowing five points less than their regular season average at 84.3 points per game. The flip side to this is that neither team lights it up on the offensive end. During the regular season Boston ranked 25th in points scored while Philly was 26th, and each is floating in the middle of the pack in terms of production in the postseason.

2. Housekeeping – Valuing the Ball:

Defense isn’t the only quality the 76ers brought from the regular season to the postseason. The Sixers are adept at taking care of the basketball. No team turned it over less than the 76ers during the regular season, and they only turned it over nine times a game in their series against the Bulls. The Celtics rank fifth at 11.7 turnovers a game, nearly half however, are coming from Rajon Rondo, who has the most of any player still in the playoffs at five per game.

3. Point of Emphasis – Getting to the Line:

Because Philly struggles so much in the halfcourt, the Sixers need to manufacture points. Few players are as good as getting to the free throw line as Lou Williams, who ranks seventh among all players in the playoffs, attempting 6.5 free throws a game.

(Fun Fact: The players ahead of Williams? Blake Griffin, LeBron James, Dwayne Wade, Chris Paul, Kobe Bryant, and Andrew Bynum – each was an All-Star, a testament to Williams’ aggressiveness).

The 76ers ranked next to last in the entire league at earning trips to the free throw line, but in the postseason, Philly is getting to the line 26 times a game, seven more attempts a game compared to the regular season.

4.Long Distance Relationships:

The C’s didn’t find the bottom of the net from 3-point range until Game 2 of their series with the Hawks, missing all 11 attempts they took  in Game 1. Their 29 percent average from long distance hurt them against Atlanta. The Celtics 36 percent average ranked seventh in the league during the regular season, suggesting they could heat up in the second round. Pietrus is a career 35.7 percent 3-point shooter, but was just 2-of-13 from deep in the first round. Look for him to find more success against the 76ers.

The Sixers don’t have many outside threats. Philly only attempted 13.5 shots from 3-point range per game against Chicago, second-fewest of all playoffs teams. One can see why, though, they were even worse than the C’s from beyond the arc, shooting a putrid 24.7 percent.

5. Avoiding the Vices:

Neither team rebounds well offensively and that trend is continuing into the playoffs. The Celtics were the worst team in the first round hitting the offensive glass, averaging only seven boards. The 76ers weren’t much more successful at 9.8 offensive rebounds a game. Both teams were undoubtedly relieved when Joakim Noah and Al Horford were absent for the better part of their opening playoff series.

6. Getting Friends Involved:

Rondo’s superior distribution was vital to the Celtics resurgence in the second half of the season. Although he is leading all players with five turnovers a game, he is also leads all postseason players dishing out 10 assists a game. Jrue Holiday’s style of play is similar to Jeff Teague, who gave Boston fits in the first round. Holiday scored 15 points a game against the Derrick Rose-less Bulls, but only had four assists a game.

7. The Truth About Closing…:

If you’re into the theory that every team needs a crunch time scorer – someone wants the ball, can take over fourth quarters, and unquestionably takes the last shot – then Philly’s roster leaves a lot to be desired. The closest thing they have is Andre Iguodala, but his reputation is built on his defensive prowess. To his credit, Iguodala is the Sixers’ leading scorer and did hit the game-winning free throws to eliminate the Bulls.

The C’s have two players in playoffs – Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce – who are averaging more points a game than Iguodala, and have had clutch postseasons thus far. Pierce had success against Iguodala in the regular season, averaging 17.66 points while shooting 53.5 percent from the floor against the Sixers in three games. Then again, Pierce is hampered with a knee injury and Allen is dealing with bone spurs, meaning two of Boston’s three closers are limited.

Words Never Lost:

It all goes back to what Collins said after the Celtics victory in early April at the Garden.

“They are going to be a handful and I wouldn’t want to play them in the playoffs. When Boston locks in they are really tough to play against.”

Philadelphia limped to the playoffs even though they had the Atlantic division lead for the majority of the season. Boston’s season began to take shape mid-way through March and, remarkably, finds itself with homecourt advantage Saturday night. If the 76ers hope to upset the Celtics, they will need to continue to get to the line, quicken the pace, and play efficient basketball by limiting turnovers.

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