BOB COONEY

When spirits are so high, it's hard for reality to set in sometimes. But for the Sixers it will hit them square in the face less than 48 hours after their clinching win over the Bulls. Boston also clinched on Thursday, but did it at home. Not a huge advantage, though.

This is the experience vs. the youth. Boston has been here so many times, and won, and Rivers readied his team throughout the season just for the playoffs. Still, Paul Pierce is hobbled with sprained left knee ligaments, and Ray Allen missed two games in the Atlanta series with ankle trouble.

The Sixers can't have long bouts of shooting woes in this series the way they did against the Bulls. Boston has a more than capable shooter in Allen to break out of slumps, and can also dump the ball into Kevin Garnett for a run at the basket or a foul.

Getting out on the fastbreak is key for the Sixers, because that can lead to easy baskets. Can they get enough of them is the question. The Sixers did beat Boston twice this season, but both came at a time when the Celtics were in the middle of a grueling part of the schedule.

Popular pick will be Celtics. Guess I'll go with that.

Celtics in 6.

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MARCUS HAYES

Ray Allen's back makes him Rip Hamilton. Kevin Garnett needed a mouthy Hawks owner and a crew of snitty sports writers to inspire him to . . . competence. Against Andre Iguodala, Paul Pierce can carry his team every third game, maybe. And Rajon Rondo is overrated.

If you picked the Sixers to beat the Bulls in six even before Joakim Noah and Derrick Rose got hurt, they have to beat the Celtics, right?

Sixers in 6.

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DICK JERARDI

The Celtics have become a jump-shooting/offensive execution team with a young, pass-first point guard (Rajon Rondo) and three almost-certain Hall of Famers (Kevin Garnett, Paul Pierce and Ray Allen). The Sixers have none of that, but what they do have is youth and speed. If this is a halfcourt series like the last one, I don't see how the Sixers can win. They simply don't have the correct parts to run an effective halfcourt offense against teams that play solid team defense.

If, however, they can force a decent amount of turnovers and run them to the rim, they can win some games. I am thinking the young Sixers are celebrating what felt like a mini-championship. I think the Celtics are playing for something more than that.

Celtics in 6.

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JOHN SMALLWOOD

The Sixers advancing past the Chicago Bulls stopped being a fantasy as soon as Derrick Rose ripped up his knee in Game 1. And now, with them facing an aged and bruised Boston Celtics team, they have a strong chance of advancing to the Eastern Conference finals.

Boston has concerns with Paul Pierce nursing a sprained MCL and Ray Allen suffering from spurs that caused him to miss two games in the opening series against Atlanta. Then there is the entire issue of how much the Celtics' now-"Geriatric Big Three" has left in the tank anyway.

It's been a long and hard season, and the Sixers' young legs look as if they might have a little more spring in them. Playing the big minutes guys such as Pierce, Allen and Kevin Garnet must will eventually catch-up to their 30-something legs.

Sixers in 6.