The Philadelphia 76ers are coming off a series win over the Chicago Bulls in which they averaged just 86 points per game. As a team they shot 40.7 percent and only Spencer Hawes and Lavoy Allen shot over 42 percent as individuals.
The Sixers offense will never be confused for a juggernaught, but they're not quite anemic as their first round showing indicates. They were going up against the best defense in the entire NBA, even without Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah. Unfortunately, it doesn't get much easier in the second round against the Boston Celtics.
According to John Hollinger's defensive efficiency stats, the Celtics ranked right behind the Bulls as the best defense in the league, and ranked even higher in Basketball Reference's defensive rating system – as the 15th best defense* of the three-point era.*Note the asterisk for the lockout-shortened season.
Both the Celtics and Bulls defenses are great – no doubt about that – but they achieve their dominance in different ways.
The Bulls defense is damn-near flawless. They force opponents into attempting the most long two pointers in the league (the worst shot in basketball), lead the league in rebounding, and block a ton of shots (third in the league), which leads to the best opponents' field goal percentage at the rim. They also limit opposing teams' free throw attempts (third in the NBA). Like I said, damn-near flawless. The only blemish in their defense is they don't force many turnovers (third worst).
The C's have a few more holes. Instead of being the best rebounding team in the NBA, the Celtics are the third worst. Their defense is also much less concerned with forcing opponents into long two pointers; they allow the eighth most attempts at the rim and the second least attempts from 16-23 feet. They're also more inclined to send their opponent to the free throw line (11th worst).
Where they're similar to the Bulls are: they block a lot of shots, and they make it difficult to convert shots at the basket (third best, behind Chicago and Miami). Where they're better than the Bulls: opponents three-point percentage (best in the league), and creating turnovers, where they're the fourth best in the league.
The Sixers will have just as hard of time scoring on the Celtics as they did the Bulls, and as much as I hate to say it, if the refs "let the players play" like they did in game five, we may see another historically bad offensive performance from the Sixers. Either team will be lucky to break 100 multiple times.
But there is hope.
As previously detailed, the Celtics have more flaws than the Bulls, defensively. The Sixers are going to need to do two things offensively, besides "run" as much as possible. The first is, take care of business on the glass. They were man-handled by the Bulls on the boards in game six's victory, but the Bulls are a much better rebounding team than the Celtics. The second: avoid the long two-pointer, like the plague.
The Sixers long two dilemma has been beaten to death this season. As you know by now, the Sixers attempted the second most long twos (24.5) during the regular season. The reason for such a high number is a combination of Doug Collins turnover-conscious offense and the blatant lack of personnel it takes to attack the rim consistently. However; with the Celtics forcing opponents into the second least number of long twos per game, there's no excuse not to cut down on the long twos, to a certain extent. They Sixers are not all of sudden going to become to the Nuggets, but they need to be under 24 long twos per night to have a shot.
One other thing to note about the Celtics defense, it may be even better than the numbers suggest. Avery Bradley was inserted in the starting lineup for good in late March, when he instantly became the team's best perimeter defender. When he's on the floor, the Celtics allow 96 points per 100 possessions. When he's on the bench, the allow nearly 101.* The C's new starting lineup of Rondo-Bradley-Pierce-Bass-Garnett allowed an incredible 93 points per 100 possessions. *Celtics D has actually been slightly better with Bradley on the bench in the Playoffs – very small sample size.
The combination of Rondo and Bradley could be a huge problem for the Sixers. Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner were the keys to the Sixers offense during the Bulls series. They'll have a much tougher time against Rondo and Bradley than they did against C.J. Watson and Rip Hamilton. Rondo and Bradley allow an opponents' PER of 10.7 and 11.5, respectively. Watson was 19.4 on the season, and Rip was 11.4.
The plan of attack for the Sixers offense should be much different against the Celtics than it was against the Bulls – if they even had a plan against the Bulls. But easier, no. Expect more scores in the 60s, 70s and 80s.