Home Sweet Home: Sixers face must-win in Game 3
If there was any time for a must-win situation for the Sixers, it would be right now. The Philadelphia 76ers face their biggest challenge of the season, an 0-2 deficit in a playoff series against their biggest rivals, the Boston Celtics.
The Celtics got through the easy part of the series with two wins, both on their home floor. They now have to travel to Philadelphia where the Sixers have been especially good at this season.
It's not a shoo-in by any means, but the Sixers know that their best chance of success is in front of their own fans.
The Wells Fargo Center crowd has been notorious this year at helping the team overcome deficits and provide a sort of sixth man while the team is on defense.
The worst possible thing for the Sixers to do this game is to become complacent on both offense and defense, allow the Celtics to get into their heads, and drop Game 3, putting them in an almost impossible scenario, having to win four straight games to advance.
With injuries this year, the Celtics have overcome so many odds without stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, giving the C's the title by many as "the Eagles of the NBA." Considered underdogs as a two-seed the moment the playoffs started, none predicted the Celtics would be playing this well this late in the playoffs, especially with how the Sixers dismantled the Heat in the first round.
For the Sixers, the series restarts on Saturday night. This is a must-win unlike any other.
History doesn't work in the Sixers' favor
Let's just be honest here, history does not bode well for the Sixers for the remainder of this series.
If the Sixers come back and win the series in six or seven games, it will be literally the first time ever that the Celtics have blown a 2-0 series lead in a playoff series. Ever.
The Celtics are 36-0 in franchise history when leading a series two games to none. The Sixers (and Syracuse Nationals) on the other hand, are 0-14 all-time when trailing a playoff series two games to none.
If the Sixers come back from this deficit and win the series, it will be the literal first time ever for both teams.
Pretty tall odds, but then again, many people aren't counting out the Sixers from getting back into this series, especially with how well they've played all season long.
This team is built for comebacks, and playing with their backs against the wall, this might be the best time to do so for them.
Another note on the home court advantage, the Sixers did lose a game at home against the Heat early on in the series, but the Celtics are also winless on the road in the playoffs so far. They won all four of their home games to upend the Bucks in seven games.
Ben Simmons looks poised for a bounce-back game
The Sixers are looking at a sure-fire way to take Game 3 at home, and they really need to be led by their standout rookie point guard Ben Simmons. Simmons has been excellent all season long, unfortunately Game 2 ended up being the worst game of his NBA career.
Nothing fell on the floor, he wasn't pursuing the basket as much, and quite frankly the Celtics used Simmons' lack of jump shot to their advantage.
Boston found ways to stop Simmons from heading down low to get shots in the post, which completely cut out his offensive game.
If the Celtics continue to play that style of defense against Simmons, he won't be a factor offensively. But that doesn't mean he can't be an efficient ball facilitator or rebounder.
Simmons only scored one point on 0-for-4 shooting in Game 2. Head Coach Brett Brown decided that backup point guard TJ McConnell would play majority of the minutes late in the game, taking away opportunities for Simmons. The Sixers led by two points late in the fourth quarter when Brown decided to replace McConnell with Simmons, ultimately losing them the game.
For Simmons' game, he didn't hesitate to answer the media's questions following the Game 2 loss, putting much of the blame of his poor performance on himself.
“I think it was mainly what I did to myself," Simmons said. I think mentally, I was thinking too much, overthinking the plays and wasn’t just out there flowing and playing the way that I play, which is free.”
Much of the Sixers' success this season can be attributed to the play of Ben Simmons and what he means to this team. He's one of the league leaders in triple doubles as a rookie, and he continued all year to bring toughness, aggression, and quality play in every game he played.
While a jump shot would be nice to evade the Celtics' defense, he's going to have to stick to his guns and the rest of the team is going to have to hit their marks and shots in order to stay in the game. For any team, the game revolves around the point guard in order to win, in this case, it's Ben Simmons.
Even with a 22+ point lead, play to win
It's hard to count how many times the Sixers have blown leads this season, it seems like it's been a big part of their schedule all year.
The Sixers blew a 22-point lead in Game 2, brought by their mentality on the court. The Sixers are masters of dominating games to the point of leading by a seemingly insurmountable advantage. But that's where it comes to bite them in the butt.
The Sixers, very often times, play like they're losing a game, like a 22 point lead just isn't enough. They act fast, create sloppy possessions that lead to turnovers, and become careless with the ball.
It's important to slow the pace down, even if you're out to a 20+ point lead. Turnovers have been the worst part of the Sixers' game this season, and all the leads they have blown in the past can be attested to that.
The NBA is all about going on runs, which the Sixers are so good at, but they're also really good, maybe even better at giving up runs.
That's something that just can't happen in Game 3.
Stick to your scoring threats
The Sixers are a team of streaky shooters, but aren't all NBA teams?
JJ Redick was hotter than hell in Game 2, there was a point where he couldn't miss and was the No. 1 reason the Sixers got out to a 22-point lead in the first place.
If all else fails, you need to stick to the guys that got you there. Redick can get on a roll, sometimes Robert Covington can, and then Marco Belinelli has been known to help out mightily off the bench.
Obviously, shooting three-pointer especially when they aren't falling just to shoot them shouldn't be option one on the gameplan but the Sixers know that certain players can give the team that extra boost especially when they need it.
The Celtics defense can be stifling like it has been in this series, but finding the open look and the smart shot is important, even if it takes a little longer to set up a play.
Philadelphia has been one of the best passing teams in the league this season, it would be a shame to not see them take advantage of that strength especially against a defense that has been so deadly these playoffs.
Defeating Boston needs to come down to playing the way that has won the Sixers 56 games this season. That version of the Sixers hasn't shown up to play yet in the two losses this series.
Josh Liddick is a contributor to 97.3 ESPN and Sixers managing editor at SportsTalkPhilly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JoshLiddickTalk.