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Celtics look for season sweep of Philadelphia 76ers

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The Celtics and 76ers meet for the 4th and final time this season with both teams missing key players.

NBA: Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Steve Flynn-USA TODAY Sports

This is the 4th and final meeting between these two division rivals 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 played one week ago in London with the Celtics coming back from 22 points down to win 114-103. These two teams also met twice in the preseason with the Celtics coming out on top in both games.

The Celtics are coming off an overtime loss to the Pelicans after winning 7 straight and are 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 18-6 at home. The Sixers are coming off a win over the Raptors (Thank you Philly), and are 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 10-10 on the road. The Celtics are looking for a sweep of the season (and preseason) while the Sixers would love to get a win in the final game between them.

In the Sixers win over the Raptors, JJ Redick bumped knees with someone and has a bone edema and a cortical crack and will be out of this game. I’m guessing that Jerryd Bayless will start in his place. Markelle Fultz is still out and may be trying to fix his broken shot now that his shoulder is pretty much healed. Back up center Richaun Holmes is out with gastroenteritis and Furkan Korkmaz is out with a foot injury. Former Celtic James Young signed a 2 way contract with the Sixers and has played with them since they were short handed but he is also out with some undisclosed injury or illness.

The Celtics may be short handed as well with Abdel Nader was out for Tuesday’s game with an illness (presumably the flu) and now Marcus Smart, and Guerschon Yabusele missed practice with an illness and all three are questionable for this game. Word is that Tommy Heinsohn is also out with the flu. Along with that trio, Kyrie Irving reported shoulder soreness after Tuesday’s loss to the Pelicans and is also listed as questionable for this game. I’m guessing that, especially with Kyrie, they will be cautious if he still has any soreness at all.

The Celtics have announced that Kyrie Irving (shoulder) is out for this game as is Guerschon Yabusele (illness). Marcus Smart is expected to play. I would guess that Smart will start in Kyrie’s place. Rozier and Larkin should get more minutes to fill in for Kyrie’s absence. We may even see one or both of the Celtics two way players if all of the questionable players are out. I’m going to say that Baynes will start at center since Brad went with him as starting center in last week’s game in London.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Shane Larkin
Semi Ojeleye
Daniel Theis
Terry Rozier
Marcus Morris

Injuries
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Marcus Smart (illness) probable
Abdel Nader (illness) questionable
Guerschon Yabusele (illness) out
Kyrie Irving (shoulder) out

Two Way Players
Kadeem Allen
Jabari Bird

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable Sixers Starters

Sixers Reserves
Justin Anderson
Trevor Booker
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
TJ McConnell
Amir Johnson

Injuries
JJ Redick (fibula) out
Markelle Fultz (shoulder) out
Furkan Korkmaz (foot) out
Richaun Holmes (gastroenteritis) out
James Young (undisclosed) out

Two Way Players
James Michael McAdoo

Coach
Brett Brown

Key Matchups

Marcus Smart vs Ben Simmons
The 6’10”Simmons will have a distinct height advantage on any point guard the Celtics start. Simmons is averaging 16.8 points, 8.0 rebounds, 7.3 assists, 1.9 steals, and 1.0 blocks. He is shooting 51.3% from the field and has not shot a 3 pointer this season. He is shooting just 55.6% from the free throw line and has been the subject of “hack a Ben” strategy from time to time this season. He had 16 points, 2 rebounds, and 3 assists in last week’s game in London. He didn’t get to the free throw line in that game. I would expect to see Brown covering Simmons on the defensive end with Smart on Bayless because of height. However, Smart is very tenacious on defense and could hold his own against Simmons. I would just hope that Smart doesn’t try to make up for Kyrie’s points by bombing away from outside.

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, 10.8 rebounds, 3.4 assists and 1.9 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, however, the Celtics have done a good job in the 3 games so far and hopefully will continue that in this game.

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 in Boston. He is averaging 13.5 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 the other end as well. With Redick out, Saric may take on a bigger role in the offense.

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 6th in the league. Defense wins games and the Celtics need every player to make defense a priority. The Celtics gave up 118 points to the Pelicans and they can’t afford to get lax on defense against the Sixers or they will end up with their second loss in a row.

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. We know that the Sixers will be aggressive and play hard and the Celtics need to match their effort.

No Hero 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. We saw this against the Pelicans. Too much hero ball and not enough team. They need to get back to playing team ball. The Celtics need to also be careful with their passes as the Sixers are 6th in the league with 8.5 steals per game and they average 16.5 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 47.6 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 8th with 44.7 rebounds per game. The Sixers are 7th with 13.8 second chance points and 8th with 47.1 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.

Play the Right Way - Against the Pelicans, the Celtics played way too much hero ball. The ball didn’t move like it usually does. They didn’t play team defense like they should. They shot 50 (yes FIFTY) three pointers and made just 19 of them. They were outscored in the paint 50-30. The Celtics need to rely less on the outside shot and get to the paint more. They need to move the ball and play as a team on both ends of the court.

X-Factors
Depth - The Celtics depth will be tested in this one with Kyrie out. The Sixers depth will also be tested somewhat with their starting shooting guard and backup center both expected to be out. Whose reserves will give their team the boost that they will need.

Home Game - Both teams played in London and both teams have played one game since returning so they are both even there. The Celtics have the home court advantage and they need to feed off the energy from the crowd. Young teams like the Sixers sometimes struggle on the road and hopefully that will be the case in this game.

Revenge - The Sixers have already lost 5 games to the Celtics this season. They had a 22 point lead in the last game only to lose that game as well. Most observers feel that the Celtics fleeced the Sixers with the draft day trade that swapped the first and third picks. In the game in London, Ben Simmons, Marcus Smart and Marcus Morris got into a spat when Morris accused Simmons of a cheap shot. Both are young teams on the rise with the Celtics building without having to tank while the Sixers have tanked for so many years they have almost forgotten how to win. For all those reasons and more, the Sixers would love to get revenge on the Celtics.