Boston took control of the series when they won Game 3, but Philadelphia has retaken control with back-to-back wins to take a 3-2 advantage into Game 6. Philadelphia could not figure Boston out during the regular season. Still, Joel Embiid and company seem poised to finally break through to the Eastern Conference Finals in this matchup against them. Will Boston even out their series and force a decisive Game 7 matchup this weekend?
Philadelphia 76ers have allowed themselves to reach the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since 2001 – also coincidentally the last time one of their players (Allen Iverson) won MVP honors.
Even though Philadelphia holds the series lead, nothing can be taken for granted, as their stars have already come and gone in this series. James Harden had an explosive debut game, scoring 45 points. Unfortunately, in Games 2 and 3, Harden went quiet, shooting 17.9% overall and 15.4% from deep across those two matches. After making up some ground in Game 4, however, Harden put together a 42-point performance that nearly resulted in a triple-double in Game 5. It has not been easy to anticipate which version of Harden will emerge accurately. Tyrese Maxey, Philadelphia’s third-leading scorer during the regular season, followed a similar path. He scored 26 points in Game 1 and 30 points in Game 5, but failed to surpass 14 points or shoot over 34% from the floor in between.
Joel Embiid has responded well after his dismal performance in Game 2. Since Game 3, Joel Embiid is averaging 32.3 points per game while making 12.7 free throw attempts a game; these trends must continue for Philadelphia to progress further in this series.
As recently as a few days ago, everything seemed to be going ok for Boston. Boston posted an offensive rating of 123.7 in their first four games, 11.5 points higher than Philadelphia. Boston was shooting 38.0% from behind the arc and scoring well in Games 1 through 4. Additionally, their bench outscored Philadelphia’s by an astonishing margin of 124-84 during this span. However, those advantages were lost in Game 5 when Boston shot just 32% from 3, 8% worse than Philadelphia. While Boston’s bench did post a positive point differential due to garbage-time minutes alone, its two leading bench players, Malcolm Brogdon and Robert Williams, combined for only 11 points during this contest. Game 5 showed us something different from what we are used to seeing from the Celtics, making it hard to know which version will surface under pressure in road games.
I am picking Philadelphia to finish off Boston in this game. I think James Harden plays well and the Sixers get the job done.
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