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Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers clash in London

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The Celtics take on their division rival Philadelphia 76ers at the O2 Arena in London for the 3rd of 4 meetings this season.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Celtics and 76ers meet for the 8th regular season NBA game played in the UK. This will be the Celtics 8th game in Europe with 3 in Madrid, 3 in Italy and 1 in London. It’s been 10 years since the Celtics last played in London. That was the year that KG, Paul Pierce, Ray Allen and the Celtics won the team’s 17th championship. The first NBA game played in London was in 1993 when the Hawks took on the Magic. The O2 Arena has a capacity of 1869 and sold out for this game in less than an hour.

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers are division rivals. They have faced off in 19 playoff series over the years, with Boston winning 12 of those series. This is the 3rd of 4 games between them this season. The Celtics got their first win of the season on October 20 against the Sixers, winning 102-92. That began the Celtics 16 game win streak. The Celtics also won 108-97 on November 30. They will meet one more time in 1 week on January 18th to finish the series.

Both teams have had 4 days off before this game and they have had a chance to spend time in London and to get a couple of practices in before having to play the game. The Celtics are 7-3 in their last 10 games and have won 6 straight. The Sixers have won their last 4 games and ware 5-5 in their last 10. Technically this is a home game for the Sixers but both teams have the same disadvantage of playing far away from home. The Celtics are 15-5 on the road while the Sixers are 10-10 on the road.

Although Celtics fans were excited to see Gordon Hayward without a brace on his foot this week, he is still out with the ankle injury and isn’t expected to play this season. Al Horford is expected to return from the knee injury that kept him out of the Celtics game against the Wolves. Marcus Morris is finally off the minutes restriction due to the knee injury that has kept him out of back to back games and limited to less than 20 minutes per game.

Former Celtic Amir Johnson missed the Sixers practice in London on Wednesday with an illness and has been listed out for this game. Furkan Korkmaz is out with a foot injury. Markelle Fultz is expected to remain on the sidelines for this game although he has been participating in practice and is very close to returning to play.

With Marcus Morris expected to be healthy, I am guessing that he will return to the starting lineup at power forward. Al Horford is also expected to play in this one and should start at center with Aron Baynes coming off the bench. The Sixers are expected to start their normal lineup of Simmons, Redick, Saric, Covington, and Embiid.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Abdel NaderSemi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Terry Rozier
Marcus Smart
Aron Baynes
Guerschon Yabusele

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable 76ers Starters

Sixers Reserves
Justin Anderson
Jerryd Bayless
Trevor Booker
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Richaun Holmes
TJ McConnell

Injuries
Amir Johnson (illness) out
Markelle Fultz (shoulder) out
Furkan Korkmaz (foot) out

Two Way Players
James Michael McAdoo
James Young

Coach
Brett Brown

Key Matchups

Kyrie Irving vs Ben Simmons
The 6’10”Simmons will have a distinct height advantage on Irving but Irving has the experience advantage on his side. We may also see Jaylen Brown covering Simmons with Irving covering Redick. Simmons is averaging 16.9 points, 8.4 rebounds, 7.5 assists, and 1.9 steals. He is shooting 51% from the field and has not shot a 3 pointer this season. He is shooting just 55.7% from the free throw line and has been the subject of “hack a Ben” strategy from time to time this season. Simmons had 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists and 5 steals the last time these two teams met.

Al Horford vs Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid will also have a height advantage on Al Horford and Horford will also have an experience advantage on Embiid. Embiid is averaging 23.8 points, 10.9 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 2.0 blocks per game. He will definitely be a tough cover for any of the Celtics who try to stay with him and limit his effectiveness.

Honorable Mention
Jason Tatum vs Dario Saric
Saric has played very well against the Celtics this season. He finished with 18 points and 10 rebounds the last time these two teams met. He is averaging 13.6 points, 6.9 rebounds, and 2.6 assists this season for the Sixers. The Celtics’ rookie needs to play defense on him to make him work for his points and he also has to play well on the offensive end to make him work on defense.

Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins games and the Celtics have been winning with their defense. The Celtics have the best defense in the league with a defensive rating of 99.7. The Sixers aren’t exactly slouches on the defensive end with a defensive rating of 103.3, which is 7th in the league. 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 be the hardest working and toughest team on the court.

Move the Ball - The Celtics play best when they move the ball and find the open man. When they dribble too much and when each player tries to do too much, the offense stalls and it throws off every other area of their game. The Celtics need to also be careful with their passes as the Sixers are 8th in the league with 8.4 steals per game and they average 16.3 point off turnovers per game. If the Celtics get careless, the Sixers will make them pay.

Rebound - The Celtics need to crash the boards as they can’t score if they don’t have the ball. The Sixers are first in the league with 47.8 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 11th with 44.5 rebounds per game. The Sixers are 6th with 14.2 second chance points and 8th with 46.8 points in the paint. The Celtics have to work very hard to beat the Sixers to rebounds to avoid giving them extra points on second chance baskets.

X-Factors
Focus - Both teams are playing on a different continent with the time difference and the distractions that go with being in a different country. Neither should have a home crowd advantage although I think there should be more Celtics fans there. Both are young teams and those young players have got to keep their focus on the game. Which team will be more focused?

Depth - The Celtics are the deeper team, especially with Markelle Fultz and Furkan Korkmaz being out and Amir Johnson being questionable with an illness. The Celtics are healthy with the return of Horford and Morris’ minutes restriction being lifted. The Celtics can run fresh legs at the Sixers throughout the game and so hopefully that will give them an edge.