What if the Sixers were the Knicks?

The reviews are in and the critics are out on this compelling, seven game Sixers-Celtics series. Even the hardcore basketball lovers I follow on Twitter are panning it with the vigor. What gives? Why can’t you appreciate say…this:

There are reasons for the rejection. First off, it’s a defensive struggle. I personally enjoy a battle of two pythons, strangling each other till their scales pop off like confetti. Other people prefer points. I get that. We are all points-drunk Philistines at some level. My head goes, “Whoa, Kevin Garnett hedges so beautifully on pick and rolls,” but my heart goes, “WHY ISN’T THE NET GOING SHIMMY SHIMMY!!?”

Secondly, despite being underrated, the Sixers probably shouldn’t be here. Collins’ team is only capable of making the Finals through a strange set of circumstances that would ultimately demean the championship in the eyes of many. Fans might rightly wonder why they watch the regular season if the Philadelphia 76ers make it to title round.  The Boston factor is a curious one, here and in other series. Fans seem to crave Heat-Celtics, but no Celtic game before that. It’s as though Miami magically makes the Celtics interesting, all because LeBron James failed memorably against them as a Cavalier.

Back to this Sixers-Celtics scrap n’ claw. I think the criticism of it is unfair. It is not sloppy and it is not bad basketball. It’s defense-oriented play from the two best defensive teams left in the playoffs. Also, offense has lagged throughout the postseason, so I don’t even think it’s fair to critique this as some uniquely offense bereft eyesore. Sixers-Celtics is marginally more defensive than say, that celebrated Grizzlies-Clippers tour de force from the first round.

But you know which playoff offense was truly awful? The New York Knicks, when they went five games against Miami while posting a miserable 93 offensive rating. Yet, when they forced a Game 5 in a frenetic overtime, the game was largely heralded and media got amped over the inevitable. Why? Because it’s the Knicks. And the Heat.

And what if the Sixers were the Knicks in hypothetical world? What if Knicks-Celtics pumped out the exact same numbers we saw in Sixers-Celtics? Suddenly, this is a compelling series anyway. It’s a test for Melo (Is he a real superstar? We’re about to find out!). It’s KG and Chandler, fighting for defensive supremacy. There’s also the possibility of Jeremy Lin as Willis Reed. No, the Knicks aren’t better than the Sixers, but they provide a bigger market and stickier story lines.

In the actual series, we’ve seen quite a bit to love, quite a bit to gasp-till-raspy over. Game 4 was host to an incredible, series-saving Philly comeback. Games 1 and 2 had finishes that were both close and memorable.  And we’re headed for a thrilling single elimination situation.

So I submit this to you: Are we watching bad basketball in Sixers-Celtics, or just bad story lines? The lesson I’m learning is that one informs how we feel about the other. Fans do not just watch hoops for its own sake. We want to see that which has been hyped, that which everyone else pays attention to. We want controversial stars to battle over legacies. Sloppy play will be forgiven if that ingredient exists.

Boston-Philly isn’t a bad series intrinsically. It’s not hideous to watch. It’s hideous to hype, which makes it hideous to watch.

Follow @SherwoodStrauss

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