Sports Illustrated's Chris Mannix joined Mut & Merloni on Monday to talk about the Celtics-76ers Eastern Conference semifinal series, as the teams prepare for Monday night's tiebreaking Game 5 at TD Garden.
While Mannix said the Sixers are capable of winning this series, he sees the Celtics headed to the NBA finals and a "toss-up" against the Thunder.
"I'm leaning towards Oklahoma City and Boston," he said of his finals matchup. "I think the Celtics will get by whoever comes out of this next series just because of the [Chris] Bosh injury. I think even with the mismatch [up front] against Indiana, I think Boston's experience will be big for them. And Oklahoma City's in a for a dogfight with San Antonio. They played horribly against them in the regular season. ... I think Oklahoma City's youth will prevail in that series."
If the Celtics survive the Sixers, Mannix said they might be better off with the Heat than the Pacers in the conference finals, especially with Bosh on the shelf.
"I talked to a couple of medical experts this morning about that type of injury, and I'm heading words like 'months' instead of 'weeks' when it comes to this type of abdominal strain. So, I'm expecting him to be out for at least the rest of the Eastern Conference playoffs if not the entire postseason," Mannix said. "In that case, I would rather play Miami. I think Boston is equipped to defend LeBron [James] and [Dwyane] Wade, or at least restrict them and limit them to either a poor shooting night or between 25 and 30 points per game. If Boston can do that individually, Miami just does not have the horses to back them up."
First, however, the C's need to put away a young, athletic and confident Sixers squad. Mannix credits coach Doug Collins for convincing the Sixers they have what it takes.
"From talking to people in Philly the last couple of weeks, this team has bought into it. They believe that they're supposed to beat Boston, that they're supposed to move on to that next round," Mannix said. "So, I think having any expectation that Philadelphia is just going to melt under this type of situation and decide that they've come far enough and they don't need to prove themselves any longer, I think that's a mistake.
"And I do think that when Boston got up big in the first quarter of the last game, I think they expected Philadelphia to fold. But one thing about Philly is that what they lack in offensive execution, and maybe what they lack in having a go-to scorer, they make up for in hustle, they make up for in careful basketball, mistake-free basketball, and they make up for in aggressiveness. And Boston just simply could not match those attributes of Philadelphia in that last game."
Mannix said the Celtics missed a golden opportunity to rest their old legs when they uncharacteristically squandered an 18-point lead in Game 4 Friday night.
"If you have an opportunity to knock a team off and get an extended period of rest, you have to look at it like it's the most urgent thing in the world," he said. "And I felt like during that game, after the first quarter, Boston just took [its] foot off the pedal and just coasted the rest of the way.
"I saw a very un-Boston-like team in that game the other night. I saw a team that lacked discipline. I saw a team that was slow on rotations. I saw a team that was sloppy with the basketball. These are not the hallmarks of the Celtics team of the last four or five years. They just simply played like they were content going back to Boston and playing this series 2-2."
Doc Rivers acknowledged that he should have given Brandon Bass more playing time late in Friday's game, and Mannix agreed.
"Coaching decisions matter in the postseason," Mannix said. "I was at the game last night in Indiana. Frank Vogel put in Roy Hibbert and David West about two minutes too late, and I thought that was what cost Indiana the game last night. You could make the argument that not having Bass on the floor may have cost Boston a chance to go up 3-1 in a very important type of situation."
Added Mannix: "This Miami team without Bosh is incredibly vulnerable and they're deeply flawed. Whereas the Pacers, the problems they're able to give Miami are the same problems they're going to be able to give Boston, with the size up front."