Matt and Pat are here to provide you with dueling perspectives on the Eastern Conference Semifinals. Let’s get started!
Pacers at Heat
Matt: The Pacers’ big man Roy Hibbert will need to be dominant against the Heat’s relatively weaker interior players, and I believe there’s a chance he can. At this point, Roy Hibbert is a much better rebounder and blocker than Chris Bosh Miami Edition, and no one will dispute that he can control the glass against the likes of Joel Anthony and Udonis Haslem. The Pacers will need him to gain them extra possessions while keeping Miami’s transition offense in check. The Pacers finished 5th in offensive rebound percentage and 7th in offensive efficiency. Creating a feedback loop between those two numbers is the path to victory. If Miami can be turned into a half-court team, the Pacers can adopt the National Official Miami Strategy (NOMS) of pack the paint to goad LeBron James and Dwyane Wade into launching long jumpers.
Pat: The Heat have three players on their lineup that most would rank ahead of Indiana’s best player, so from the start Indiana is in the hole talent wise. LeBron’s MVP level of play from the regular season has carried over to the postseason and that outweighs the size advantage Roy Hibbert can provide at center for the Pacers. The Pacers have more depth but that advantage becomes somewhat limited in the playoffs as there are more days between games allowing the stars to log bigger minutes. Miami’s three point shooters (Miller, Battier, and Chalmers) showed some signs of life against the Knicks and when they are knocking down outside shots off of James/Wade drives, Miami is nearly impossible to stop. Miami is 28-5 at home this year and combining home court advantage with the relative playoff inexperienced Pacers, Indiana is up for a challenge and they may not be equipped to push this series past five games.
The Picks: Matt: Heat in 5. Pat: Heat in 5.
Sixers at Boston
Pat: The Celtics are coming off of a series win against the Hawks and will bring their stifling defense into the second round along with them. The Big 3 may not be as formidable as they were a few years ago, but defensive anchor Kevin Garnett has seemed to turn back the clock a few years. Rajon Rondo, assuming he keeps the chest bumps to himself, can pick apart opposing defenses as good as anyone and the 76ers will provide a challenge with their third rated defense. Brandon Bass is an improvement over Glen Davis as he can consistently hit the midrange shot and with him on the floor along with KG, Paul Pierce, and Ray Allen, the Celtics space the floor well and will force the 76ers to guard everyone. Both teams play a relatively slow pace (21st and 24th in the league) and Boston’s extensive playoff experience and great half court sets should allow them thrive if they can slow down the game. The 76ers have had several poor late game performances this year blowing leads and stumbling to the final buzzer. The Celtics may be old, but they are talented enough to exploit those situations with heavy doses of Pierce late. At the end of the day the 76ers are happy to have made it to the second round while the Celtics expected to be there.
Matt: The Sixers finished ahead of the Celtics in efficiency differential. Why did they finish with a worse winning percentage? A historically bad record in close games. The Bulls series featured a few close wins, so perhaps they’ve made the adjustments in strategy, whistles, and lucky bounces that often separate a win from a loss in a one point victory. In round 1, the 76ers adjusted to the Bulls’ endless screens by deploying slippery Jrue Holiday against the shooting guard, although Ray Allen is a different degree of difficulty than Richard Hamilton. (Ray’s 61% and Rip’s 50% True Shooting are not in the same solar system). On offense, the first round looked… well the Sixers looked pretty ugly sometimes. But one thing stood out: the 76ers did a much better job of attacking the rim, and they also began to earn some trips to the line. In the regular season, neither of the above happened. The 76ers led the league in long 2’s, and they shot the least free throws in the NBA. With those two numbers trending positive in the playoffs, the offense will continue to improve. And if Iguodala is healthy, the defense is more than capable of containing Boston.
Finally, the 76ers need to rebound. This is a mental issue. At times they held their own, and at others they held a staring contest while the ball bounced towards a Bull. Late in the 4th quarter of game 6, the Bulls controlled the ball for over a minute straight by corralling 5 rebounds in a row, despite being the tired team. It was like watching a fullback run out the clock with 4 yard gains up the middle, the defense just bouncing off of him; or like a hockey team trying to kill off a penalty, unable to clear the zone. But the 76ers aren’t an awful rebounding team, they’re merely mediocre. Boston won’t be able to punish them, as they finished 30th in offensive rebounding rate (and 20th on the defensive end). In an effort to limit the Sixers’ transition offense, Doc Rivers will likely retreat to set the defense rather than aggressively push forward for extra possessions. It won’t work, and the Sixers will upgrade from last year’s breakfast to this year’s dinner.
The Picks: Pat: Celtics in 6. Matt: Sixers in 6.