The Celtics look to move on after losing their first two games as they take on their division rivals, the Philadelphia 76ers. These two teams met twice in the preseason with the Celtics coming out on top in both games. This is the first of 4 meetings between these two teams this season, including a game in London on January 11, 2018. This is the Sixers home opener and they are 45-23 all time in home openers.
Both teams have changed somewhat since their preseason games. The Celtics are now without Gordon Hayward, who was one of their key starters. On the other hand, The Sixers have added Joel Embiid, who missed most of the preseason. He will be on a minutes restriction, according to their head coach, but even in limited minutes, Embiid can make a big difference in a game.
Both teams last played on Wednesday. The Celtics lost at home to the Milwaukee Bucks in their home opener while the Sixers lost 120-115 to the Wizards on the road in their first game of the season. This is the first of back to back games for the Sixers as they will travel to Toronto for a game on Saturday.
Marcus Morris is still day to day with the sore knees that kept him out of the first two games of the season. He is expected back next week. Gordon Hayward underwent successful surgery to repair his ankle and tibia and according to his agent, and will miss the rest of the season. Marcus Smart rolled both ankles in the game against the Bucks and according to Brad Stevens is likely out tonight but is listed as a game time decision. There has also been some question about Jaylen Brown's wrist that he injured in the Bucks game. As of now, he's expected to play tonight. Richaun Holmes will be out for the Sixers with a wrist injury.
With Marcus Smart likely to miss this game, there is yet another question as to who will start in his place. Brad Stevens has opted for his 3rd different starting lineup in as many games. The Celtics will go big with Aron Baynes joining the starting lineup at center with Horford moving to power forward, Tatum moving to small forward and Brown moving into the shooting guard spot. They used this lineup in the preseason with some success.
Probable Celtics Starting Lineup
Marcus Morris (knee) out
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (ankles) questionable
Jaylen Brown (wrist) probable
Two Way Players Kadeem Allen
Probable Sixers Starting Lineup
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Injuries Richaun Holmes (wrist) out
Two Way Players
James Michael McAdoo
Coach Brett Brown
Kyrie Irving vs Jerryd Bayless
Although Ben Simmons does most of the ball handling and runs the offense when he is in the game, Kyrie will likely be matched up with former Celtic Jerryd Bayless who is slated to start at point guard. Kyrie is coming off a game that he would probably like to forget where he shot just 7-25 from the field. Hopefully he finds his shot in this one and moves the ball more.
Al Horford vs Ben Simmons
With the Sixers running their offense through Simmons, for the most part, Al’s defense will be key in trying to disrupt the Sixers' offense. Al needs to keep him away from the basket and make him shoot from outside. He also needs to make Simmons work on defense so he can't take any possessions off.
Aron Baynes vs Joel Embiid
According to Sixers coach Brown, Embiid is going to be on a minutes restriction. Since the Sixers are playing in back to back games, they will likely play him in one and rest him in the other. He had 18 points and 13 rebounds in 27 minutes on Wednesday. He will definitely be a tough cover and Baynes needs to make him work for his points and rebounds.
Jayson Tatum vs Markelle Fultz
These two players won't be matched up against each other in the game for the most part, but they are always going to be compared. When Danny Ainge traded the #1 pick for the #3 pick and passed on Fultz, who was the consensus top pick, in order to take Tatum, it assured the fact that these two players will be scrutinized and compared for the rest of their careers. The fact that Fultz didn't start their first game has raised some questions about his abilities.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics' defense was better than expected in the preseason, but against the Cavaliers and the Bucks, they struggled on that end. They have the potential to be a good defensive team and they need to work hard to live up to that potential. Defense wins games and the Celtics need every player to make defense a priority.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics have to be the more aggressive team and go after all the loose balls, and aggressively go after rebounds, and be aggressive on defense. They also have to be aggressive in taking the ball into the paint. The more aggressive team will usually get the benefit of the whistles. The Celtics need to work to get back to being the tough and aggressive team they were last season.
Move the Ball - The Celtics ball movement was stalled in their game against the Bucks. Kyrie seemed to want to go to iso on many possessions and as a team, they all let the ball stick way too much. They have to get back to moving the ball and finding the open man. No more hero ball.
Focus - The Celtics are a young team and at times young players struggle to stay focused especially when playing on the road. They shot just 52.4% from the line against the Bucks and that shows that they had lost their focus. It is understandable that they have struggled to keep their focus after Hayward's horrific injury in the first game. However, they have to make themselves focus on the game and get back to playing Celtics' basketball.
Next Man Up - The Celtics have a big hole in their rotation where Gordon Hayward should be. They also will be missing Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris and so they need to have the next man up mindset and every player needs to step up their game to fill in that hole. When they do that, then they will be fine.
Young Players - Both teams are young with a mix of rookies and young players and a few veterans thrown in. They both need to see growth in their young players and the team that gets more from their youngsters will have the advantage