The Boston Celtics earned the right to face LeBron James and his Cavs in the 2018 NBA Eastern Conference Finals starting next Sunday (May 13). They did it by eliminating the Philadelphia 76ers in five games. The last game took place on Wednesday night (May 9) when the Celtics beat the Sixers at the TD Garden in a game that went down to the wire. 114-112 was the final score. The 4-1 series victory for Boston pits them against LeBron James and the Cavaliers.

Boston deserved every bit to win against the Sixers

The Celtics are a deserving Eastern Conference finalist.

They achieved this result without the best players - Kyrie Irving out since the last month of the regular season because of a problem with his previously surgically repaired knee. Gordon Hayward since the first six minutes of the first game of the season with a gruesome ankle injury. They did it, however, thanks to the ability to develop players who were not supposed to be starters at the beginning of the season. Terry Rozier, for instance, wasn't supposed to be the starting point guard of the Celtics come playoff time. He is now, because of Kyrie going down, and he acts like he's always been. They did it also thanks to an organizational commitment to play to their strengths and taking away all the best options from the opponents game plan.

This is precisely what Neil Paine wrote on on the Celtics. What coach Brad Stevens and Boston's front office was able to do throughout this season (playoffs included) was to create more value from the roster than the one that was projected before the start of the season. Finally, the Celtics can't lose at home.

Not a little detail on the broader playoff scheme. Against the Bucks, all Boston had to do was winning four games at home. In the next round against the Sixers, they repeated themselves: three wins on homecourt and no losses. The only difference from the series with Milwaukee was that the Sixers shot themselves in a foot in Game 3, allowing the Celtics to win their first game on the road during these NBA playoffs.

Talking about the genius that lies within Brad Stevens, Boston forces opponents to play left-handed. Kevin O'Connor on The Ringer wrote in a very analytical way on how coach Stevens botched the entire game plan devised by Philadelphia coach, Brett Brown. O'Connor highlighted how exceptional is Stevens in drawing plays in special situations (inbound passes, for instance. An added value that was able to put in numbers) or how the Celtics coaching staff devised a way of setting the defensive transition to prevent Ben Simmons from going all the way to the basket. Finally, how coach Stevens decided to go with single coverage against Joel Embiid by making him work hard on gaining an advantage in the low post by bumping, pushing and making him do the extra work to get the ball where he liked.

Also, the Celtics are one of the few teams, probably the only one, that has the mentality to make its players defend way beyond the three points line. But, at the same time, have the mobility and quickness to fill up the paint. Finally, the Celtics do play defense for the entire length of the shot clock, forcing the opponents to take an unwanted one while the 24 seconds are winding down. These are one of the few reasons why Sixers sharpshooters went cold during this series and why their shooting percentages were so low. Marcus Smart is someone for whom there should always be a spot on any NBA roster. It is not only about the level of physicality he brings to the game. It's about his mental toughness and his versatility.

In Game 5, with Shane Larkin out because of a shoulder injury, Smart played some stints of the game as a point guard and did it competently.

On a Philadelphia hail mary pass in the last seconds of the game, Smart intercepted the pass intended for Robert Covington by sprinting from midcourt. Talking about defense, Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Morris (who had an off night on offense), combined for a total of 14-of-39 shooting. The Morris-Rozier-Horford-Tatum and Smart lineup had a +12 overall of plus/minus. Moreover, the Brown-Horford-Rozier-Tatum and Smart one had a +7 of plus/minus (courtesy of Defense and, a selective way of attacking on offense, paved the way to the success against Philadelphia.

For the Sixers, these are growing pains

The Philadelphia 76ers were deemed to go straight to the NBA Finals. They were due to stroll around the Easter Conference playoffs as if they were almost a formality. Many fans and pundits have been probably carried away by that winning streak of sixteen consecutive games that Philadelphia had to finish up the regular season. The way the Sixers played during that stretch (most of the games played without Joel Embiid out injured for an orbital bone fracture) impressed many. How Ben Simmons exploded before the eyes of every NBA supporter.

There were a lot of overreactions when expressing opinions about the Sixers. They forgot, though, that of those sixteen wins in a row, only three (Minnesota, Cleveland, and Milwaukee, courtesy of Basketball-Reference) came against playoff teams.

Many of the pundits forgot that unfortunately for the young Sixers, NBA is hard. There are no shortcuts. Teams have to lose before they start winning. They need to feel the power of growing pains. The organizations who have been able to get the most out of them have been the ones who were able to succeed and establish at the highest level. Just remember the first Michael Jordan's Chicago Bulls pre-first-retirement. How many losses they had to endure before finally find the key to reach the NBA Finals and dominate the League. This is no different for Philadelphia. Boston was the better team because it forced the Sixers to play the way they didn't want, especially in the first three games of the series.

The last few minutes of both halves were crucial in defining the fate for the Sixers. In the first half, with the score 53-52 for Boston, the Celtics went on an 8-0 run to finish the first two quarters 61-52 (with three-point shots scored by Aron Baynes and Terry Rozier). In the second half, with one minute and 37 seconds to the buzzer, the Sixers were up 109-105 thanks to a Ben Simmons layup. Boston finished the game with a 9-3 run to seal the series while Phila just turned the lights off by stopping to play any defense (a dunk by Horford and two easy layups scored by Jayson Tatum) and being careless on offense. Every possession counts in the playoffs. Mature teams don't take breaks between plays.

Possessions matter even more so down the stretch. That was the moment Boston was able to step up while Philadelphia faded.

Joel Embiid had moments during Game 5 where he looked utterly knackered forcing the viewers to think that his overall fitness wasn't entirely there. Ben Simmons, on his side, had two incredible mental blunders in defense in the last two defensive plays of the game. Jayson Tatum beat him on a one-on-one from the top of the key for a missed easy layup (Marcus Smart recovered the offensive rebounds and scored) for the 109-109 tie. On the next defensive play, it was the rookie from Duke, once again, to slash to the basket from the weak side with Simmons losing sight of Tatum because he was only looking at the ball on the strong side of the offense.

111-109 Boston and win almost in the fold for the Celtics. Overall, Simmons had a lousy effort in defense, conceding to his opponents an effective field goal percentage of 53 percent and a whopping 8-of-10 on field goal attempts in all his matchups (according to As coach David Thorpe stated on Twitter, this is a humbling experience for the young Australian. If he learns from his mistakes, he'll be the MVP that everyone expects him to be someday.

Haley O'Shaughnessy, during her exit interview about the Sixers on The Ringer, focused - among other things - on Simmons' outside shooting by quoting what Kobe Bryant said on a radio show: Sixers point guard should re-build that thing from scratch.

Truth to be told, learning to be a reliable three-pointer could become a longshot for Simmons. It would be more feasible for him, at least in the immediate future, to develop a solid jumper outside the paint and maybe expand his shooting range from there. Just by becoming a threat outside the box could open new worlds for himself, for Embiid, who could have more space to operate in the low post, and for the Sixers in general.

It will be a summer of decisions for the Philadelphia front office. What to do with Markelle Fultz after a pretty much wasted rookie season? What to do with the expiring contracts of J.J. Redick, Amir Johnson, Marco Belinelli, and Ersan Ilyasova (Belinelli and Redick have stated through various platforms their willingness to stay in Philly).

What to do with $25 million of cap space available? Shall they pursue LeBron? Shall they try to lure Paul George? Shall they package a deal to San Antonio and trade for Kawhi Leonard? Or, by all means, shall the Sixers' front office opt to keep its core intact and wait for summer 2019 when other big names (Klay Thompson for instance) will become free agents? Decisions await in Philadelphia. But the future looks bright for these young Sixers.