It’s way too early to start talking playoffs, the Celtics have barely set their lineups, but with the clock ticking at 23 games remaining the thought should at least creep into your head.
The notion of Boston gaming the standings to find a favorable first-round opponent is unlikely, only 3.5 games sit between the 4-8 seeds in the conference and the Blake Griffin-led Pistons now only lay 1.5 games behind the Kelly Olynyk-led Heat for the final playoff spot.
Last year more than any should show how even with a monster regular season, the first-round can be no joke in the improving east. The Bulls jumped ahead 2-0 on the Celtics before, yes, Rajon Rondo got hurt (I’m willing to argue over that synopsis of the series, but that’s for another day).
As it stands, 76ers-Celtics would present a compelling renewal for two franchises tied throughout history and most recently at last year’s draft when the teams flipped Markelle Fultz and Boston drafted Jayson Tatum in Philadelphia’s spot. The Cs beat Philly in three out of four games this year.
Our latest in daily all-star break roundtables is who you would prefer to see in the first-round? Whether it’d be for entertainment value or easy access to the second-round. Here’s what the CelticsBlog staff said.
The Philadelphia 76ers. While everyone gets excited about Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons, young teams rarely win in the playoffs. Boston has enough defenders and size to throw at Philly and more than enough wing defenders to take away the Sixers limited wing shooting. That makes them the matchup the Celtics should be looking towards.
The Sixers. The team relies too heavily on Embiid who the Celtics have defended well and Simmons inability to score from distance will begin to show more in a playoff setting where the game is more halfcourt. Age plays a bit of a factor as well, with the Celtics being the 4th youngest team in the league, going up against another young team that hasn’t been there before evens up the mental playing field. This is not to say that t his wouldn’t be a tough series, but it is one that the Celtics have the most realistic chance of winning comfortably.
I’m with Keith on this one. Apart from their last meeting where Embiid had his way, Boston has done a very good job defending him with Baynes, Theis, and Horford. The Celtics have also done a solid job on Simmons all year by giving him a lot of space to shoot, something he doesn’t do very well.
With a combination of that and the thin bench the Sixers have, I’ll take Philly in the first round every time over the likes of Miami, Detroit, and Milwaukee.
Miami. Erik Spoelstra has built a team culture predicated on grit, tenacity, and relentless effort. They’re a tough regular season out, but teams like that turn into mirages once every team is playing with full throttle intensity in the playoffs.
With Dion Waiters sidelined until next year, they don’t have a lot of scoring firepower. Playoff games often come down to skill and playmaking, and I can’t foresee Dragic and Whiteside keeping pace with Irving and Horford.
Boston’s offense is a mess, but Miami’s is actually less efficient. Games could be won with scores in the 80s and 90s. That would remove some scoring pressure off of Brown and Tatum. Miami also has the worst plus/minus amongst the current top-10 teams in the East. They could be vulnerable.
If I wanted the sweep, or five games, I’d roll with Chin and the Heat. But I want some entertainment, fireworks round one. As well as the start of a hopefully budding, renewed rivalry between Philadelphia and Boston that now boasts another Super Bowl. The 76ers and Celtics have played each other in the postseason through various eras, including the Paul Pierce days in 2012 when the two went toe-to-toe for seven epic games prior to the infamous Heat conference finals. The Fultz fiasco and Tatum’s obvious success has simmered the fire between these two teams but four or more games in the spring could change that. Joel Embiid’s personality, Ben Simmons’ play-making and everything else that team would throw into the circle alongside Boston would be so much fun, and I’d feel confident about Boston winning it too.