On opening night, October 28th in Boston, the season began with a game in Boston against the Celtics. Jahlil Okafor scored 26 points and showed the svelte moves that everyone knew he had. The 76ers were considered a point guard away from competency, while fans waited anxiously for Nik Stauskas and Robert Covington to begin their seasons. Even after what developed into a blowout loss, there were reasons to be optimistic.
Since then: man, has it been a grueling five months.
We all know what's happened in between for the Sixers. The Celtics on the other hand have been the same team for most of the year. They swarm you defensively with their guards and wings, move a lot on offense and generate a ton of long twos for guys who hit those shots regularly, and think Evan Turner is significantly better than he actually is.
Boston is perceived to have a low ceiling due to a number of things, but no more than the idea that they're a max-effort faction with a coach elevating the team above it's natural abilities. I'm not sure that common sentiment is wrong, if only because they do play with a consistently high effort on both ends. But they feature a real offensive centerpiece in Isaiah Thomas and all-NBA caliber defenders around him in Avery Bradley and the injured Jae Crowder.
They'll remind you how good they are tonight. Avery Bradley will hound the Sixers guards into turnovers. Isaiah Thomas will make Ish Smith's turnstile-like defense appear even worse than normal. Amir Johnson will be in perfect position for whatever he's doing, every time.
The Sixers are still trying to find themselves post all-star break. While the defense and rebounding have been disastrous, the offense clearly has improved since the Sixers returned from their eight-day sabbatical.
Increase/decrease in Pace, OffRtg, DefRtg & NetRtg from before the break to after it: pic.twitter.com/8yh1N7YghH— John Schuhmann (@johnschuhmann) March 20, 2016
Yes, the Sixers rank 10th in offensive efficiency since the all-star break. Garbage time minutes help, just as they helped the Sixers with their defensive efficiency last season, but the Sixers have made some strides there. It deserves a deeper look.
Against the fourth best defensive team in the league, even without arguably their best overall defender, it'll be tested. Nik Stauskas scored a career-high 23 in Friday's loss to the Thunder and has himself been on a hot streak as of late. Isaiah Canaan and Hollis Thompson have been chucking threes at a pretty ludicrous rate. Boston, which allows opponents to shoot only 33% from three, will have to contain the shooters to keep the Sixers in line.
It probably won't matter once the Sixers allow a bajillion points, though. Game tips off at 6:10 EDT. Go to CelticsBlog for coverage for a team where this game matters.
Also: Listen to this week's Rights to Ricky Sanchez podcast sponsored by L.L. Pavorsky Jewelers, featuring a recap of Bus The Process. the NCAA tournament (which Mike Levin has seen almost every second of), and Brett Brown's interview with Zach Lowe. Also also: watch The Grinder this week, as the episode was co-written by Mike. Tuesday at 9:30 EDT on FOX.