In the age of coronavirus, everybody is acutely aware of how much things can change in a year.
Still, in the wake of the Boston Celtics playoff sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers completed on Sunday, we’re busting out that old trope and humming the tune that goes, “My how the tables have turned.”
Remember last summer when the Celtics were left for dead? A husked out carcass of a could’ve been dynasty after the departure of mercurial All-NBA guard Kyrie Irving? Then the consummate professional Al Horford seemingly decided that the 76ers offered him a better chance to chase playoff wins in the short term and left, too.
That was the final nail in Boston’s coffin. Philly was a rising power in the East, a team that could’ve won the championship if a few shots fell differently against Toronto, and given Kawhi Leonard’s trek west to Los Angeles, a favorite to do so in 2020. Losing Irving and his extra-planetary attitude was one thing; Horford, though, a basketball guy’s basketball guy, would know if Philly was in better position than Boston. Even if Al made that decision, it was curtains.
Boston and its stable of young stars broomed this chic pick for the NBA Finals out of the Orlando Bubble. As it turns out, Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown were not part of some problem. They were not harbingers of some nebulous, precocious locker room issue that would make it impossible to win. They were just a few steps and some chemistry away from possibly taking over the association.
It’d be unfair not to mention that the Sixers were missing Ben Simmons. He’s not much of a shooter, though, and to this hoops novice it was fairly obvious that upon losing Jimmy Butler (to Miami) and J.J. Redick (to New Orleans), Philadelphia was no threat for the NBA title. It’s not all that often that I’m right about the NBA (I took the Rockets to win the title preseason, after all), so you’ll have to endure the victory lap.
There’s a segment of Celtics fans taking particular glee from beating Horford. He wasn’t quite a turncoat in the mode of Johnny Damon jumping from the Red Sox to the Yankees 15 years ago, but he was a pretty divisive figure for his team in Boston.
Horford didn’t always score, didn’t always post visible statistics, didn’t always seem to be living up to his $100 million-plus contract. If you questioned him, though, an entire subset of Boston devotees were ready with finger wagging about setting screens and tales of not understanding the game if you don’t see the value.
Unsurprisingly, being talked down to by the smart crowd made every day fans dig in even deeper against Horford. Those are the same folks that penciled the 76ers in for a championship run, and now they must look at how lifeless Philadelphia looked these last two games and ban their predictions to Old Takes Exposed.
Yes, things were different in the NBA Bubble with the pandemic pause and no home court advantage. The way they carried themselves, I don’t think the 76ers would’ve beaten Boston in Beantown, Orlando, near the Liberty Bell or on the moon.
I’m somewhere in the middle on Horford. He was a great pro, a good Celtic and he was perhaps overpaid and unneeded by the end of his deal. All those things can be true at once and we don’t need to be angry about it.
If anyone from Philadelphia happens to be reading this, keep in mind how much things can change in a year. In the 2019 NBA playoffs, it was Boston that was an embarrassment, an underachiever that needed to be blown up. Instead a few tweaks from boss Danny Ainge has the team looking like a title contender. I’m not ready to rule out that the Sixers, and Horford, could pull off a similar turnaround for 2021.
While they ponder that, though, the Green gear up for what looks like the best series of the second round against the defending champion Raptors. After 2019’s free agency stripped them of Irving, Horford and Kawhi, no one had either of these squads as an East finalist, and now one is guaranteed to be.
Would you rather win the offseason or win on the floor? We know what Boston and Toronto would answer.
You can contact Matt Williams at MWilliams@newburyportnews.com and follow along on Twitter @MattWilliams_SN.