PHILADELPHIA — The 20-game mark of the NBA season is the time when teams are supposed to have a pretty good idea of where they stand, what’s working and what isn’t.
The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will each have reached that 20-game mark after completing a back-to-back home-and-home series on Friday and Saturday. Yet, both Doug Collins and Doc Rivers admit that they’re not sure what kind of team they have.
“I don’t think you really know who you are until you face some adversity,” Collins said before his team’s 95-94, overtime victory at the Wells Fargo Center, “and you have to really gather around each other and really be that team that you’ve worked so hard to become.”
Playing without Andrew Bynum, Collins’ Sixers have seemingly overachieved, though their 10-8 record is also a product of the league’s easiest schedule through Thursday.
The Celtics, meanwhile, seem to be playing below their ability. We’re waiting for them to flip the proverbial switch and start playing like the second-best team in the Eastern Conference. Maybe that will happen, and maybe it won’t. On their way to 10-8, the Celtics have struggled to defend at the level they have in the past.
“We don’t have [an identity] either,” Rivers admitted before the game. “You sometimes want to be the team you were last year, but that’s not the personnel. The team will let you know who they want to be and who they are.”
Dealing with roster turnover, the Celtics are just now starting to get in synch defensively.
“We’re graduating from not knowing to now knowing [defensive rotations],” Rivers said. “We’re still not doing it consistently yet, but we’re better at it. I can say that. We’ve taken great strides, to me, over the last five games. Sometimes the numbers don’t show it, but you can feel it. You can see it. Now, the next step is being a consistent team with it, offensively and defensively.”
As the Celtics and Sixers try to find themselves, it’s appropriate that they’ve found each other … for the 14th and 15th times (including a couple of preseason games) in the last nine months. Though both rosters have turned over since last season’s conference semifinals, these teams are probably a little too familiar with each other.
“They’re a team that we don’t like to lose to,” Jrue Holiday said.
Two games in two nights against the same opponent is a pretty unique situation. Rivers likes it, and not just because it’s the same scouting report both times.
“I just have always thought that it’s very competitive from a playing standpoint,” he said. “I think when you play the same team back to back, the game becomes very competitive, almost chippy. I enjoy that.”
After a ridiculously fast-paced first quarter, Friday’s game turned into a grind. It didn’t get too chippy, but it appropriately went to overtime and came down to the final shot, just like a couple of those playoff games in May.
That final shot was Rajon Rondo‘s, and it sailed way long. Rondo recorded recorded his 14th regular season triple-double, but this was the first in a Celtics loss. (They had lost a couple of postseason games in which he recorded a triple-double, including Game 7 in Miami in June.)
Beyond Rondo, there was a mixed bag of performances on both teams. And though the Sixers are now a game up on the Celtics for third place in the Atlantic Division and sixth in the East, there’s not much else to take out of this one in regard to comparing where they both stand.
Still, Rivers is happy with the direction his team is going.
“I loved our effort,” he said. “I loved how competitive we were. Overall, if we keep doing that, we’re going to make a run here soon.”
Maybe that run will start against these same Sixers on Saturday.