With the 10th pick in the 2018 NBA Draft the Philadelphia 76ers selected Mikal Bridges from the Villanova Wildcats. The pick had more significance than the obvious. We all know Villanova is a college in the Philly area. Not only was this the first time a Villanova player was drafted by the hometown 76ers, but Nova’s Mikal Bridges is also a guy who comes from the Philadelphia area. (Malvern, P.A.) Also, Mikal’s mother, Tyneeha Rivers works for the 76ers, in the team’s HR department. It all seems like the perfect set up for a Cinderella story. By the time this night would end, that dream would be turned into a nightmare. (Not really, Mikal will still be living out his dreams of playing in the NBA next season, just not with his hometown 76ers. I just added “nightmare” because it sounds more dramatic.)
Bridges, his mother, Villanova head coach Jay Wright, and a host of family and friends gathered around, beamed with pride and joy as NBA Commissioner Adam Silver announced that the 76ers had selected Bridges with the 10th overall pick in the NBA draft. Bridges must’ve felt as if he was in a dream when he walked to the podium wearing a 76ers hat as he shook the Commisioner’s hand. Next, it was off to do interviews with national and local media and talk about how excited he was to be playing for a team that is clearly on the rise. With the uncertainty of Markelle Fultz’s role on the team moving forward, there was a good possibility that Bridges might not only be playing for a real contender next season, but might also see significant playing time. A lot to look forward to for a young player. A dream come true. Meanwhile, the 76ers organization were on some whole other sh*t. The 76ers likely never drafted Bridges looking for him to play on their squad. Yes, Bridges was a part of the process, but not in the way he probably hoped for.
I think the 76ers still believe Philly may be a possible landing spot for Lebron James or Kawhi Leonard during the offseason search for a superstar free agent signing. The 76ers believe they are one player away from being the team to come out of the Eastern Conference next season. They have a legitimate reason to feel that way too. 1) The young 76ers are really good. 2) The Eastern Conference as a collective is really bad. If there were ever a good time to make a serious run at a championship, that time is now. The 76ers are making moves based on this theory. Sadly, Mikal Bridges didn’t fit the bill with this type of thinking. Drafting him was little more than trade bait.
Bridges was unaware that the hometown squad was already looking to move him as he did his interviews and talked about how excited he was to be a part of the 76ers franchise and play alongside the likes of rising stars Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. A short time later, the 76ers finalized a trade they’d been working on from the moment they drafted Bridges. He was on his way to Phoenix. He’d been traded for one of the Suns earlier picks, guard Zhaire Smith, and more importantly, an unprotected 2021 first round pick. (A move that makes Markelle Fultz’s future role with the 76ers even more questionable in my opinion) Bridges and his family handled the situation with class as he put on his best fake smile as he was interviewed about the trade. Bridges even went as far as to say how excited he was to be a part of the Suns franchise. That statement surely held a lot of truth to it. I mean, playing in the NBA is many kids dream. Mikal Bridges dreams came true on draft night, but playing for a young rebuilding team like Phoenix vs. playing for your hometown team which is on the rise, is a hell of a big difference. And likely “hella” disappointing. But on the bright side, Mikal Bridges is officially an NBA player. How many people in the world can say that?
I’ll give them credit, the 76ers showed some heart last night. After getting their one game back in Philly and avoiding a sweep, I kind of felt like the 76ers would come out last night and lay an egg. Coming back from a 3-0 series deficit would’ve been a steep hill to climb, and I wasn’t sure that this 76ers team had something like that in them. Not against this red-hot Celtics team. I was right about that part, but I was wrong about the type of effort the 76ers would give in Boston down 3-1. The 76ers could’ve actually won this game. The same could be said of at least three of the five games the 76ers played against the Celtics in this series. The problem is that this young 76ers team has a lot of places where they need to be better if they hope to be competitive in the playoffs. The 76ers, as a team has no bigger issue to work on than late game ball control. The carelessness that has plagued this team all season was finally their ultimate demise. In the regular season, the team got away with blowing big leads a lot of times, but the playoffs are a different season. A lesson I’m sure this young team will learn.
76ERS 112 –
The Celtics pulled out the victory in a game that was close and very competitive all night. Boston was led by Jason Tatum who dropped in 25 pts. Jaylen Brown had another solid night on his way to a 24 pts. effort. The Celtics had six players who scored in double digits last night (Horford 15, Tatum 25, Baynes 13, Rozier 17, Brown 24, Smart 14). It was an all-around solid outing by the Boston Celtics as they closed out a tough 76ers team in front of a rowdy Boston crowd. Dario Saric and Joel Embiid led the way for the 76ers, both dropping in 27 pts and adding double digit rebounds (10, 12). The 76ers season is over, but the future of this team is very bright. As a matter of fact, the future of both of these teams are very bright. The 76ers – Celtics matchup is going to quickly become a rivalry that may match the brutal Boston – Philly rivalry of the 80’s. Anyone old enough to remember those days knows that this is a good thing for the entire NBA. The best thing about that, is most of the players on both of these squads are very young. I look forward to great matchups from these teams for years to come.
The Celtics move on to face the Cleveland Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals for a chance to play in the NBA Finals. Feelings aside, and a straight up basketball related analysis of this series…….Sorry Boston, not this year. There is nothing the Celtics can do to stop Lebron James from doing whatever he wants out there. Anyone guarding him will find themselves in foul trouble very quickly. Then there’s the Kevin Love issue. Where’s the matchup there? Tatum? Baynes? Then you have to deal with the Tristan Thompson issue. Yes, I suspect that Tristan Thompson will play a huge role in this series. I wouldn’t even be surprised if coach Tyron Lue decided to start Thompson in this series. As good as Boston was against the 76ers, the thing that worked most for them was not needing to go too deep into their bench to matchup with the 76ers. Cleveland will go deep into their bench. Kyle Korver, Rodney Hood, Cedi Osman (remember him?), Jordan Clarkson, Jeff Green, Larry Nance Jr. I think the Cavs are just going to be too deep in the long-run. I still think it will be a competitive series. I give Boston a home game, and maybe even steal one in Cleveland. But too much bench, too much Cavs, too much Bron. I got the Cavs in 6. Sorry I’m not sorry Celtics fans.
Philadelphia, PA/ CLEVELAND, OH
Both Eastern Conference semi-finals games took place last night. Both were possible close out games. Possible four-game sweeps. One of the teams looking to close out their series handled their business, the other team got handled.
In Philly, with their backs against the wall, the big question was, are the 76ers going to roll over and die? Or are they going to show some heart and dignity? The 76ers chose the latter. It was anything but a pretty win for the home team, but the 76ers clearly knew what they were facing, and refused to allow themselves to go out like suckers. Now, I’m not going to go overboard and say that the 76ers will win this series now, but not getting swept in the playoffs by a very good Boston Celtics team will be a big boost of energy and confidence for this young 76ers team moving forward…….Unlike the Toronto Raptors, who pretty much rolled over and died last night. No one on that team looked like they really wanted to be there, let alone compete. The Raptors walked into the game against Cleveland last night looking like they were already thinking about vacation. Well, they don’t need to think about it any longer. Today they can actually go do it. Why not? The Raptors ain’t doing sh*t else right about now.
76ERS 103 –
The desperation from the 76ers last night showed immediately. They made a change to their starting lineup that I honestly think came a few games too late. Defensive liability, Robert Covington was benched in favor of off the bench spark-plug, TJ McConnell. The move paid off. Not only did McConnell’s presence on the floor seem to mess up Boston’s game plan to give the ball to whoever Covington was guarding, McConnell’s scrappy play on offense and defense turned out to be contagious. McConnell ended the game with 19 pts. 5 ast. and 7 rebs. Forward Dario Saric, who’s been pretty much invisible all series, finally showed up last night and pitched in 25 pts and 8 rebs. Joel Embiid had 15 pts and 13 rebs and Ben Simmons continued to bounce back from that horrible 1- pt game as he added 19 pts and 13 reb. Jason Tatum led the way for the Celtics with 20 pts. Al Horford added 10 pts to go along with 10 rebs. And Marcus Morris is still hot coming off the bench, he added 17 points and 5 reb. “Scary” Terry Rozier was pretty much held in check last night for the first time in this series. He had a humbling 11 pts. to go along with 8 reb.
The Cavs came into last night’s game against the Raptors wanting to show the #1 seeded Raptors that they were still the beast of the East. Led by Lebron James, the Cavs did just that. Bron led the charge for Cleveland on his way to 29 pts. 11 ast. and 8 reb. Kevin Love added 23, and J.R. Smith decided to show up last night on his way to a 15 pt effort. Sharp-shooter Kyle Korver also did long range damage again as he dropped in 16 pts. Big man Jonas Valanciunas led the way for the Raptors and he came off the bench last night. The big man had 18 pts. and 5 reb. Kyle Lowry came up small in a big game once again as he only managed 5 pts. He did have 10 ast though. All-Star Demar Derozan who was ejected from the game in the 3rd quarter and obviously wanted no parts of this game, finished with 13 pts and 5 reb
It ain’t over until the fat lady sings right? I’m still holding onto hope, but I gotta admit, things are looking very bleak for the home town right about now. I can’t even attempt to sit here and fake it. The Boston Celtics are a better team than the Philadelphia 76ers……this year. I honestly can’t see the 76ers beating these Celtics four games in a row. I’m sorry my fellow Philadelphians, but I think this is where the road ends for the 76ers…..this year. BUT, on the bright side……The Eagles won the Super Bowl! That joy can never be taken away from us!
It would be easy to sit here and blame everything on Ben Simmons. The young man has quickly gone from hero to scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with the team, in the blink of an eye. I’m not going to take that route. I’m going to look at what Boston has that the Sixers don’t. 1) Boston is a very well coached team: Not taking anything away from Brett Brown, but Celtics coach Brad Stevens is playing playoff Chess as compared to Brown’s playoff Checkers. I don’t know how long it will take for Brown to see that Robert Covington is a defensive liability. Every time Stevens sees Covington out there he runs plays for the player Covington is guarding. Remember that inbound play in overtime when Horford got that easy bucket down low to give Boston the lead? That was no coincidence. Covington was guarding Horford. 2) The young Celtics players are not afraid of the bright lights of the playoff atmosphere: Rozier, Tatum, and Jaylen Brown were out there ballin’ like they were playing in a pickup game on Sunday morning at the neighborhood park. They seemed to be completely unaware of the pressure and the “must score” theme that played out in front of them as the close game wound down. The Sixers on the other hand, clearly looked like a team that had the “playoff jitters” as the game went down the stretch. That can be overcome with more experience though. 3) The Celtics are really good: Boston has amazingly managed to figure out a way to get the most out of every player on the team. These are not big name players. We’re talking about a bunch of no-frills role players….and they’re ballin! And it’s working. Marcus Morris, Al Horford, and Marcus Smart have been thorns in the 76ers asses all series. The minute you get fortunate enough to stop or contain Brown, Rozier, or Tatum, here come these three out of nowhere. This was just an all around bad matchup for this 76ers team…..this year. But the 76ers are a young squad who WILL get better with time. Making the playoffs wasn’t the final step of the process. There’s a few more steps left to be made before the 76ers reach the final step of the process and bring an NBA Championship to the city. The future is bright….as for right now? You might as well chalk this series. It’s over. I just hope the 76ers can find a way to win at least one game against this team.
The Celtics were once again led by Tatum, Rozier, Jaylen Brown, and Al Horford. Marcus Morris had a nice game coming off the bench. He dropped 9 points and added 7 rebounds. It looked like he did much more damage than that as I watched the game in real time. Rozier remained a thorn in the 76ers backside. He added 18 pts. to go along with 7 ast. And an unsung hero for the Celtics was Aaron Baynes. Most people only noticed Embiid putting his dumb ass in a coffin on that vicious facial dunk, but Baynes played an important role that most people didn’t take notice of. He wore Embiid down. That was his job. Just put a body on Embiid all game and wear him down. Baynes did that job to perfection. He did his job so well that Embiid was the happiest person in the building when Baynes fouled out. The 76ers were led by Joel Embiid who had another dominant performance on his way to a 22 pts 19 reb. night. Ben Simmons bounced back from his 1-point effort in game-2……statistically. Ben had 16 pts. 8 reb. and 8 ast. Really good looking numbers on paper. But watching the game, the reality was that Ben Simmons still looks unsure of himself out there. Ben Simmons seems to be running away from the ball instead of running to it in the big moments. Like I said earlier, I won’t pile on to the criticism being thrown in the youngins’ direction, but Ben is going to really need to have a long conversation with himself in the offseason and ask “what is it about this Celtics team that makes me unsure about myself and my abilities?” That is a question only Ben Simmons knows the answers to. Sharpshooter J.J. Reddick added 18 pts in 41 minutes to round out the top scorers for the home team. On a side note. Robert Covington had 1-point 2 reb. and 1 ast in 25 minutes on the floor. He was also a defensive liability in every one of those 25 minutes he was out there. This is unacceptable. Check out some of the highlights (or lowlights) from game-3 below:
Video Courtesy: Rapid Highlights