I don't mean to disregard the Philadelphia 76ers' propensity to improve. Lord knows they improved coming into this season, and they have improved within each playoff series. Between Doug Collins and a fairly smart roster, they figure things out.
They hang around until they find a gap, and they exploit the gap. That's how they beat a Chicago Bulls team that still played excellent defense in the absence of Derrick Rose and Joakim Noah in the first round, and that's why they have taken the Boston Celtics all the way to seven games -- and still may beat them.
The Sixers are pretty compelling, all told, with a nominal star in Andre Iguodala whose primary asset is defense, who has seemingly been on the trade block for four years, and who rarely scores more than 15 points. The team's bench isn't just a powerful weapon; it's legitimately better than the starting five on offense. (It's not even close, really.) Philadelphia is morphing into an odd basketball market where there's a set of truly hardcore fans ... and then everyone else, caring much or little alternately depending on the circumstances.
As a consumer of basketball lore, I'd be fine with a Sixers win -- I remember how marvelous they looked early in the season, and I marvel at their instincts of survival. I will never say that they don't deserve to be in the East final. If they win Game 7, they do, no question.
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But the basketball fan in me, the guy who wants to enjoy watching the East finals over the next two weeks? For that part of me, man, the Sixers cannot win this game.
The Celtics aren't any better than the Sixers, but they sure as heck will play the Miami Heat more competitively. ESPN's Brian Windhorst wrote a piece on Friday about why the Heat would much prefer the Sixers to the C's in the East finals: Miami is 11-1 against Philadelphia in the last two seasons (including the 2011 playoffs, a sweep) and just 6-7 against Boston in the same span. Miami is +112 over Philly in 12 games. Boston is +2 over the last 13 against Miami. The Sixers have served as roadkill for Miami. The Celtics have been a legit foil.
I don't necessarily want to see the Heat struggle, but I do want to see competitive basketball. I do want a reason to watch the fourth quarter that doesn't involve James Jones trying to dunk. Only Boston provides that at this point. Bomani Jones made the case for fixing the East to result in a Celtics vs. Heat finals, and really, it's hard to argue against that at this point. It's not just about storylines or narrative either.
Right now, it's about the very fate of the East finals as watchable. Only the Celtics can provide the critical element of competition at this point.
It appears we'll get an amazing West finals as the Thunder and Spurs are well-matched, powerful clubs. But it'd be really cool to have a series equally as compelling in the East. With all apologies to our friends at Liberty Ballers and SB Nation Philly, let's go Celtics.