Boston point guard vs Philadelphia defense: Terry Rozier vs J.J. Redick
This is probably the key defensive matchup to watch for Philadelphia. When Kyrie Irving played for Boston, the Sixers defended him with either Redick or Robert Covington. Covington is the better defender, but he’s far more used to covering opposing 3/4s than he is point guards. The 76ers have moved away from him defending point guards as the season has gone along, and they’ve entrusted that duty to Redick.
If Rozier draws Redick, this is a matchup Boston can attack. In the Milwaukee series, the Celtics made an effort to get Rozier in space against the Bucks more limited defenders. Redick, despite giving good effort, qualifies as a limited defender. If Boston can draw Joel Embiid from the paint (more on that later!), they can let use Rozier use his athleticism against Redick to get to the rim. Once there, he can either score for himself, or he’ll draw help and find his teammates. The latter is something Rozier did better and better as the Milwaukee series went along.
Rozier will probably draw Redick on the other end as well. Of the starters for the Celtics, he’s the best equipped to chase Redick through the maze of screens Philly likes to use. The Celtics “hid” Irving on Covington, but they’ll probably change this up with Rozier starting.
Advantage: Celtics. By a slight margin, Rozier has the advantage here. If it is Redick, he should be able to make things happen. If it is Covington, the Celtics can switch to attacking Redick with whoever he is guarding.
Philadelphia point guard vs Boston defense: Ben Simmons vs Al Horford
If the Celtics stick with their regular season strategy, Simmons will primarily be defended by Horford. Some have suggested that Brad Stevens stick with Semi Ojeleye in the starting lineup to defend Simmons, as he did late in the Bucks series against Giannis Antetokounmpo. While we’re likely to see lots of that as the games go along, Boston probably won’t start that way. They’re likely to go back to their big lineup with Aron Baynes starting against Joel Embiid, which brings Ojeleye off the bench.
That means Horford probably draws Simmons. With so many of the games being played early this season, while the rookie was still figuring things out, Horford dropped way off Simmons in defensive coverage. Horford regularly played five to ten feet off Simmons. This didn’t force Simmons to shoot, as he won’t do that, but early on it helped muck up the passing lanes for Philly.
Now? Simmons just attacks no matter what. If guys drop off, he just gathers a head of steam and hits the paint. Because he’s so big and has good strength, he’s able to finish despite defenders waiting for him. He’s also an expert at drawing the defense and finding teammates on the wing for shots.
One last things, because of the cross-matches, it is important both sides get back and set their defense. Philadelphia doesn’t want Rozier getting out and running, nor does Boston want that from Simmons.
Advantage: 76ers. This is the chess match to watch in this series. Everything else is really pretty simple basketball. In Simmons, Philadelphia has one of the unique players in the league. He’s been borderline unstoppable since the All-Star break. How Boston handles Simmons will go a long way towards deciding the series.