NBA Playoffs 2012: The 76ers' Most Important Players in Round 2 vs. Boston
With both teams coming off home clinchers in Game 6 of their respective first-round series, each team now turns their attention to one another in this Atlantic Division billing.
These squads know each other well, and there will be few secrets, if any.
This is a classic "young legs versus experienced veterans" matchup. Boston has the star power and Philly has the depth and freshness to make this quite the series.
Having been through this before, the Celts are being picked by most to take this one—to no surprise. But Philadelphia has done well against Boston over the last few years, including winning two of three against them in this shortened NBA season.
Everyone plays a role in a playoff series, but this slideshow will rank the the most important players on the Sixers in this upcoming tilt.
If these players do their jobs, the 76ers could shock the league and make it to the Eastern Conference Finals for the first time since Allen Iverson and Larry Brown led Philly to the Finals against Shaq and Kobe in 2001.
Lou Williams / Thaddeus Young
The two leaders of the "Night Shift" come in at a tie.
"Sweet Lou" has been the main topic of discussion for his lack of production off the bench for the Sixers in Round 1, but where has "Thad" been?
He came up with (what turned out to be) a huge bucket very late against the Bulls in Game 6, but otherwise, his offensive production has been lacking.
Young averaged only 7.2 PPG last round, though matched up against Chicago's feisty forward Taj Gibson. Williams scored 12.8 PPG against the Bulls, which wasn't too far off his season average.
However, it was clear he wasn't taking good shots, and it was reflected in his 36.9 field-goal percentage.
The Bulls are known for being a deep team with one of the NBA's best second units. Though they were forced to deal with injuries and insert reserves into their starting five, their bench was still more than formidable.
The Celtics, on the other hand, are not known for their second unit. In their three meetings this season, Philadelphia outscored Boston from the bench by a whopping 127 to 69.
For the Sixers to win, they need to take advantage of this mismatch. The catalysts are undoubtedly Lou and Thad.
Starting shooting guard Evan Turner has been coming into his own in this year's playoffs—the more he plays, the better he gets.
The former Naismith College Player of the Year is averaging 33.7 minutes per game this postseason, compared to 26.4 minutes in the regular season. With those minutes, Evan is finding his role and developing chemistry with his notable colleagues, Jrue Holiday and Andre Iguodala.
I don't expect Turner to slow down against the Celtics, and Philly will need him to bring his entire game, especially his rebounding ability.
It is likely that "E.T." will be asked to guard all-time three-point king, Ray Allen. Just a sliver of space is enough for "Jesus Shuttlesworth" to drain one in your face, so it is imperative that Turner bring the same defense he brought in Round 1 to keep Allen at bay.
The Sixers' versatile center has had his ups and downs this season.
He started off the season playing incredibly well, and he was unquestionably a huge reason for Philadelphia's early success. Then he injured his back, and the team sorely missed his rebounding and passing abilities.
That wasn't the worst for Spencer, unfortunately. After coming back from injury for the second time (he injured his Achilles tendon soon after his first return), Hawes' game was not at the same high level it was before. He was relegated to the bench in the latter stages of the season, and this did not sit well with him.
No. 00 found himself little time in Game 1 against Chicago, when he played only 15 minutes off the bench. In Game 2, Hawes was inserted back into the starting lineup, but he played only 18 minutes.
After Game 2, it was a different story.
In each of the final four games of the series, Spencer played at least 30 minutes, averaged over 10 rebounds and scored 20-plus points twice. He was playing like he had at the start of the season.
Hawes will have a huge task against the Celtics, though. He will be matched up against 14-time All-Star, Kevin Garnett. The fifth overall pick in the '95 draft is averaging 18.7 PPG and 10.5 RPG this postseason.
Garnett averaged 37.7 minutes in the first round, and that will not change against the Sixers. If Spencer can make Garnett work on the defensive end consistently, it could go a long way in tiring out the 35-year-old during the series.
Most importantly though, Hawes will be key in keeping Garnett off of the glass, which was an area of grave concern for Philadelphia in Game 6 against Chicago.
Not much needs to be said on behalf of "Iggy's" importance to the Sixers. But I'll go ahead and do it again anyways.
Andre can play hero, with or without recognition, like he got after the series clincher against Chicago. He wouldn't surprise me if he came up with more great plays like he displayed in this sequence last night.
However, his paramount responsibility will be to limit Celtic captain Paul Pierce. Pierce averaged 21.2 PPG against Atlanta in Round 1. Though Pierce has a knee injury of his own (sorry Derrick Rose), he still scored 18 points in the final game against the Hawks.
Pierce may not be 100 percent, but you know he's going give everything he's got. And Iguodala will try to shut him down.
If he can do that—which is a big if—the Sixers' chances of advancing improve dramatically.
Pierce may be Boston's captain, but Rajon Rando is the key to their success.
Much like Turner and Iguodala, Rondo brings a little bit of everything. Beyond shooting, Rondo is very good at all parts of his game. He is one of the NBA's most talented point guards and is known best for his playmaking abilities, but Rondo's defense can be suffocating.
In a matchup against Boston's fiery guard, Jrue Holiday needs to be Philadelphia's series MVP.
Jrue was the Sixers' best offensive weapon in Round 1, averaging 18.2 PPG. But against Rondo, Holiday will have a much tougher time scoring. Though they are deep, Philly must get production from their 21-year-old guard.
In their three meetings in the regular season, Jrue scored just 11 PPG. Holiday has taken his game to another level this postseason, though. He is definitely capable of contributing on the offensive end like the Sixers need him to in this series.
They say defense and rebounding are what it takes to win in the playoffs, and those will be the most important keys for Jrue.
Rondo is an exceptional rebounder for his size (6'1'') and position. He is averaging 5.6 boards per contest in the playoffs. You can't expect the Sixers to get dominated on the glass like they did in Game 6 against the Bulls and win again. So it is vital that Holiday keep a body on Rondo when the ball goes up.
Lastly, Holiday's great defense will need to be at its best in this series.
Rondo is lightning quick and can get to the bucket like few others can. His craftiness and awareness make him one of the most dangerous offensive weapons in the game. Though he can score, Rondo's passing abilities are what make him so incredible. He led the league in assists by a full point over perennial assist leader Steve Nash (11.7 APG) this season.
Rondo brings it all, and Holiday can too. But it's asking too much of the 21-year-old to even make this matchup a wash.
That being said, Jrue is a budding star and he knows very well what he is going up against. If he can come close to making this a fairly even battle, Coach Collins will be thrilled, and so will I.