Can you smell the fear? Well, if you say you can, you're lying. What we've learned from the first five games of the Eastern Conference Semifinal series between the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers is that the once "sensitive" and "fragile" Sixers are a very formidable foe for the time-tested Celtics. Nevertheless, Philly will have its back to the wall as it faces elimination in Game 6 at 8 p.m. EST on Wednesday night at Wells Fargo Center (ESPN).
"It's not going to be easy," said Celtics coach Doc Rivers about knocking out the Sixers after a Game 5 victory on Monday. "Listen, this series is hard. They're a good team, they're an athletic team. Every minute you think, like, we're leaking oil, physically. So we've got a quick turnaround here and we're going to have to be ready. But I just want us to play the right way every minute, and if we do that, I don't know if we'll win or not but we'll be good."
Boston wasn't exactly good (at least not in Rivers' eyes) for the majority of the first half in Game 5, trailing 50-47 heading into halftime. Alas, a huge third quarter from Brandon Bass -- he scored 18 of his game-high 27 points in the period and led the Celtics on a 15-4 run -- turned the tables and powered the Celts to a 101-85 win, giving Boston a 3-2 series lead.
Now one win away from their third Eastern Conference Finals since 2008, Boston is ready to strike for the final time. Still, as Rivers said, it will be difficult, and the Celtics know that.
"We know how tough the playoffs are, there's nothing easy about the playoffs," said Paul Pierce, who is averaging 19.6 points this postseason. "We know there's a long journey to get to where we need to go. We understand how difficult it is, nothing's easy. You got a very resilient Philadelphia group who just won't go away. I take my hat off to them, they are one of the better teams we even played in the last few years because of their fight, and they got great coaches and their players are mentally tough. We know they're not going to go away, so we've got to have our hard hats on for the next game, Game 6, to try to put them away."
Of course, the last time Boston visited Philadelphia, Pierce and company learned that lesson the hard way. Boston jumped out to a 14-0 lead and led by 18 points early in the second half, all while looking like they were on the verge of a quick five games series. Then, as Rivers later said, the Celtics lost their composure and Philly displayed its true grit, using a furious comeback to notch a 92-83 win in Game 4 and even the series at two games.
Boston can afford another loss in the series, but not Philly. For the Sixers, the options are clear: win two straight games or make vacation plans. No question, that is a very tall order.
"It will definitely be tough against this team," said Andre Iguodala. "We got to believe in ourselves and focus in and try to get done and try to clean up some of the mistakes."
Sixers coach Doug Collins has singled out one area where his team will need to succeed during Game 6 if they want to save their season and prolong the series: toughness.
"I told my guys that to win game six we've got to be mentally and physically tougher [than] what we were [in Game 5], the last eighteen minutes of the game," Collins said. "They knocked us on our heels and we had that one little segment that we tried to get back into it. But for the most part they were the more forceful team to finish the game."
And as it often does, the game will come down to one question: who wants it more?