Celtics will be tested by 76ers

BOSTON -- Welcome to the Eastern Conference semifinal between the Celtics and 76ers. By the time it's over, we'll be lobbying for a 15-second shot clock, as this promises to be a cringe-inducing series on the offensive end.

Yes, of course, there is so much history and tradition between Philadelphia and Boston and it will get dredged up as these two longtime rivals prepare for Game 1 on Saturday night in Boston. But those matchups, which featured Larry-Doc or Wilt-Russell, generally had the two best teams in the conference, if not the NBA.

This time around, you have two teams that sometimes seem to treat offense as if it is a carcinogen. The Sixers won their series against the Bulls shooting a lusty 40.7 percent from the field. The Celtics won their series against the Hawks shooting 43.3 percent. Each team cracked triple digits once. The Sixers won Game 6 scoring 79 points (or 10 points more than they scored in Game 5.) The Celtics won Game 6 scoring 83 points.

But this is what the Eastern Conference has become. You want offense? Go West, young man. In the East, we have four defensive-minded teams in the conference semifinals. Miami is the most offensive-minded of the four, but the Heat are also a terrific defensive team. The Celtics and Sixers can be good offensively, but most of the time, they defer to defense and the offense invariably suffers.

The Celtics will have home-court advantage. They will be favored, as befits a No. 4 seed playing a No. 8 seed. But the Celtics have no reason to think this series will be any easier than what they just endured against the Hawks. It is going to be a certifiable meat grinder.

We can start by putting the regular-season results in the circular file. They just don't matter. There were only three meetings -- and all of them were decided by 13 or more points. Philly won one game by 32 and the Celtics' lone win was by 24. Expect these games to be much, much closer.

"Well, at least we don't have to travel, we can look at it that way,'' Rivers said. "And that's not the greatest team to pick to play. We've got a bunch of gazelles coming in here; they only beat us by 1,000 in two of our three games. I can tell you the key to the series right now is we can't turn ball over. If we do, it's a guaranteed basket against them."

Philadelphia annihilated Boston in the first meeting of the season on March 7, but the Sixers caught the Celtics on the second night of a back-to-back having gone overtime the night before. The Sixers won easily again 16 days later, again in Philadelphia, and it was the Celtics' last game of their eight-game road trip. Boston had played the night before -- in Milwaukee. In both cases, the Sixers had not played the night before.

The Sixers were in a bad way when the two teams met for the only time in Boston on Easter Sunday, and the Celtics -- who were in a groove -- spanked them 103-79. That was the game where Sixers coach Doug Collins told one and all "not to blink on the Celtics" when talking about dangerous playoff teams.

The one real slap in the face to Rivers and Collins is that the series will start on Saturday night, giving neither team much time to prepare. Meanwhile, Indiana and Miami, whose series ended on Tuesday and Wednesday, get to start on Sunday. But the Celtics could have had the extra rest if they had finished the job in Atlanta. They didn't.

"It's one day of play, one day of rest,'' said Paul Pierce, who certainly needs more than one day of rest for his sore left knee. He said he felt "a little tired and sore" from chasing Joe Johnson all over the court on one good leg.

"But this it, man. This is it,'' Pierce said. "This could be our last chance together, so we're going to give it one last run and then see what happens. We might not have this opportunity again."

Ray Allen could also use more than a day's rest. He confessed to playing on an extremely sore right ankle Thursday, and it showed. He missed 6 of 7 field goal attempts and bricked two free throws. He couldn't stay with Kirk Hinrich defensively. He could use several extra days.

But playing on Saturday at home against the Sixers sure beats the alternative. The Bulls, who lost a six-game series to Philly, are still scary with their defense and rebounding and would have had the home-court advantage. And after what we just saw, did anyone want to go to Georgia for a Game 7?

"I'd rather be going to Game 1 here than going to Atlanta for Game 7,'' Rivers said. He's right about that. Game 2 will be Monday night. The NBA hasn't announced the schedule for Games 3-7, but presumably there will be a decent stretch of rest days between Games 2 and 3.

Any Celtics fan would have killed for a matchup against the Sixers in the second round. But this might be a case of "be careful what you wish for."

This series may not have the plethora of All-Stars and putative Hall of Famers that the Celtics-Sixers series of the 1960s and 1980s had. Or the venom and vitriol of the 2002 matchup, the Celtics' first playoff series in seven years, when Allen Iverson was at his demonic best.

But it could be every bit as competitive and fun. And go with the under.