Things can go sideways in a hurry in a short, seven game series. Just ask any fan of the Celtics or Sixers who have spent most of their lives crippled by a strong and instinctive fear and disorienting urge to kill, or at least maim one another at the drop of a hat or the tip of a ball. That kind of powerful sporting lust is rare and not one that is easily tempered but it is totally counter-intuitive to everything we know to be acceptable and right even if it seems like a good idea at the time.
There are very few friendly words fired between these two teams. The animosity is as thick as any London fog and it is bred in the bone. Ask any basketball fan raised just North of the Mason-Dixon line in the small coal-mining towns of Western Pennsylvania and they’ll tell you that they’ve only ever seen in red, white and blue; that the basketball world starts and stops at the edge of the state and that the C-Word is seven letters long and worse to say than slapping your own mother in public, twice, and for no good reason at all.
It is what we in The Business call a well-tuned rivalry, a finely-fueled fire that is stoked every four or five years. Since the Syracuse Nationals skipped town in ‘64 and stowed away in the City of Brotherly Love, the Celtics have been the menacing horde from a few states away. When the Warriors got Wilt, the Celts got Russell; when the Sixers got Doc J, the Celts got Bird. When they got A.I., the Celts got The Truth and when Boston had the biggest, baddest 1-2-3 on the court in ’82, the Sixers had the Strangler who buried the boys from Beantown almost every single time he tried.
Indeed. But those were the old days, the bad days, the all-or-nothing days when a series could end after only two games and dropping an opener in front of the home town crowd meant certain death for anyone who smelled strongly of loss and regret. Losing an opener in 2012 is not quite as detrimental as it was back in the days of Doc J, but it is far from ideal; something like 67 per cent of the teams that have lost the opening game have gone on to lose the series.
Other historical numbers we might consider “interesting” as gambling people include 14, the number of times the home team has won the past 21 Game Sevens, and 100, which seems to be the definitive number of points you need to secure a Game Seven win and a number the Sixers have yet to achieve since Game Two of the opening round.
Offensive boards and leading at the half also seem to play an important role, with 19 of those 21 teams leading after two quarters going on to win the game and being able to contain the opposing teams’ point guard has always been what you would call “keen advice” for people intent on succeeding in the basketball business.
Which seems to suggest the Celtics is where the smart money lies; they’re playing at home and they’ve got Garnett. They’ve got Allen and Peirce and Rondo who is playing so far out of his skull with 13.1 assists per game, 6.3 boards and a healthy 15.9 points that it seems unreasonable to think the Sixers will be able to do anything with him at all let alone contain him in any sort of conventional basketball way. They’ll need a net and a club and maybe more than a short, seven game series.