Inside the Sixers: Sixers' Hawes vs. Celtics' Garnett a key matchup

The Sixers' Spencer Hawes (00) fouls Chicago's Omer Asik near the end of Thursday's 79-78 win.
The Sixers' Spencer Hawes (00) fouls Chicago's Omer Asik near the end of Thursday's 79-78 win. (      RON CORTES / Staff Photographer)
Posted: May 13, 2012

Spencer Hawes missed a good part of this season with his Achilles tendon injury. The biggest byproduct of his absence from 27 games is that he won't be able to command the money in free agency that he would have had he remained healthy and had the season he could have had.

But Hawes has the potential to make back a good percentage of that money against the Celtics in the Eastern Conference semifinals, which begin in Boston on Saturday night.

As the 76ers begin play in the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2003, Hawes can reap a dual benefit in his matchup with Celtics center Kevin Garnett.

One of the things that Hawes didn't appear to bring back with him when he returned to the Sixers was that 18-foot jumper that fell so regularly early. The shot was money, and since it was not an aspect of his game in previous seasons, it caught many clubs off balance.

The good news is that Hawes showed signs against the Bulls of being able to make that shot again. And if he can continue to do so, it's going to force Garnett - the only rebounding threat on the Celtics - to defend him farther from the basket than he or Boston coach Doc Rivers wants.

It also could have the residual effect of allowing the Sixers to get more of those dribble handoffs that were a part of their offense early and result in more drives to the basket. And, as we saw in the Chicago series, more drives produce more free throws.

This has nothing to do with Garnett as a defender. The soon-to-be-36-year-old is still staunch. But it has everything to do with forcing him out of his comfort zone as much as possible.

And while Garnett was not thrilled with the Atlanta Hawks owner's implication that age was part of the reason he has become a dirty player - he's not, he's just more animated with the chest-thumping and scowls - he is older. There is no reason at all for Hawes and the Sixers not to force Garnett to run the floor as hard as they can in trying to wear him down.

In the last four games against Chicago, Hawes, after totaling seven points and seven rebounds in the first two games against the Bulls, averaged 15.5 points and 10.3 rebounds. He twice scored 20 points or more, and he made almost 52 percent of his field goals.

The Sixers made just 40 percent of their shots in five of their six games against Chicago because the Bulls, depleted as they were by their injuries, are committed - maybe to a fault, if that's possible - more to playing defense than any other team in the league, Boston included.

Boston is going to want to get Rajon Rondo, quickly becoming its best player, out in transition. And the Celtics are going to look at the Sixers' poor shooting and salivate at the opportunity to get out and run. But this isn't exactly the worst thing that can happen to the Sixers.

Remember Game 2 against the Bulls? Perhaps the Bulls were still in shock over losing Derrick Rose to a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Whatever the case was, the Sixers took advantage of it, got out on the break, and showed exactly why teams wanted to keep them playing in the half court as much as possible.

If Garnett is away from the basket and more concerned with Hawes out around the free-throw line, Boston is going to have trouble getting to those defensive rebounds that are required to get the ball into Rondo's hands.

And if Hawes can use his length to bother that short jumper of Garnett's around the basket, it's another win for the Sixers.

Of course, these are very big questions. Garnett is likely a future Hall of Famer, and he has played at a very high level, especially with the move to center. But Hawes has some advantages, however small they may be. He'll need to make the most of them all, starting Saturday night, if the Sixers are going to pull off yet another upset.


Contact staff writer John N. Mitchell at jmitchell@philly.com. Follow him on Twitter @JmitchInquirer

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