There’s plenty of MACtion in the NFL. In the NBA, there seems to be a lack of representation from the conference.
But in the midst of the 2018 NBA Playoffs, both of the two MAC players in the association are currently squaring off in a heated playoff series.
Richaun Holmes of the Philadelphia 76ers and Abdel Nader of the Boston Celtics are fighting for a spot in the Eastern Conference Finals. Participating in the second round of the playoffs, both small forwards are experiencing their first postseason and are at the closest they’ve been to claiming a title in their respective careers.
Despite season-ending injuries to former All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward, the 2-seeded Celtics have claimed a 2-0 lead in the series, defeating the young Sixers in Boston on Monday and Thursday. Oddsmakers originally favored 3-seeded Philadelphia in the series, but the team is struggling against Brad Stevens’ depleted — but deep and well-coached — roster.
Holmes, a third-year player out of Bowling Green, spent three years in the MAC as a Falcon. The All-MAC honoree was the 37th pick of the 2015 NBA Draft and has been a staple on an ever-evolving Sixers roster. Out of the 76ers’ seven playoff games this spring, Holmes has stepped on the hardwood in three of them, logging one rebound and one assist. He played 1:44 in Game 1 of the Celtics series, deployed during the final minutes of the Celtics’ convincing 117-101 victory.
Holmes averaged 6.5 points and 4.4 rebounds per game in 48 contests with Philadelphia this year. It was a slight step down from his 9.8 and 5.5 he averaged a year ago, as the Sixers upgraded their roster with new additions such as J.J. Redick and Ersan Ilyasova and remained relatively healthy in 2017-18.
Nader graduated from Iowa State, but his first two years in college basketball unfolded in DeKalb, Illinois. The Egyptian-born small forward played 50 games for the Northern Illinois Huskies from 2011-13, averaging 13.1 points per game in his sophomore season. Nader sat out the 2013-14 season due to transfer rules, played two years at Iowa State, and earned the 58th overall selection (third-to-last pick) in the 2016 NBA Draft.
This season qualifies as Nader’s rookie year because the entirety of his 2016-17 campaign was spent with the Maine Red Claws of the NBA G-League (formerly D-League). In the current playoff series, Nader shared the floor with Holmes during the final 1:44 of Game 1. Additionally, the rookie played four of the seven games versus the Milwaukee Bucks in the opening round, recording six points, two rebounds, two assists, one steal, and one block in the process.
In 48 outings this season, Nader averaged 3.0 points and 1.5 rebounds per game for the Celtics.
Holmes and Nader likely won’t see increased playing time on the court this series or for the rest of the playoffs as rotations often tighten. However, both small forwards are steady contributors who have cleared dozens of obstacles just to make it into the NBA. Both have surged through G-League stints to secure spots on playoff rosters of Eastern Conference contenders. And as a result, Holmes and Nader are the only two active NBA players to hail from Mid-American Conference programs.
The two MAC alumni continue their seasons in Game 3 of the 76ers-Celtics series. The high-stakes matchup tips off at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia at 5 p.m. EST on Saturday evening.