Starting Bigs: Al Horford and Aron Baynes vs Dario Saric and Joel Embiid
This matchup mostly depends on what Baynes can do against Embiid. Embiid is one of the toughest covers in the league because he generally uses his skill with the ball as a means to get to his incredible strength. That allows him to overpower most opposing centers. Baynes won’t get overpowered inside, but he has to avoid fouling, especially on the perimeter. While Simmons is the focal point of the Sixers offense, they run a ton through Embiid as well. He’ll get a touch on almost every offensive possession. Those touches will come from the perimeter, in the mid-post area or in the deep post. He’ll catch it on the move on occasion, or he’ll be thrown the ball and allowed to create a play on his own.
Baynes simply has to be able to play Embiid straight up and make him work. Sometimes when Embiid isn’t having his way easily, he’ll start to force things. By being a brick wall and an irritant, Baynes might be able to get Embiid off his game. On offense, Baynes just needs to set screens, be active on the offensive glass and hit shots when he’s got easy ones. Easier said than done, but his offensive role isn’t a complicated one.
As for Saric, if Simmons doesn’t draw Horford, that will be Saric’s cover. That is a matchup Boston attacked with good success in the regular season. Much like they did against the Bucks, the Celtics will get Horford the ball in positions where he can go at Saric. He’ll either put it on the floor to drive by him, or he’ll attack him in the post. If Boston can force the Sixers to put Embiid on Horford, they’ve kind of won the matchup. At that point. Horford will step outside and become a shooter or playmaker. This is the ideal endgame for the Celtics.
On defense, Boston will probably guard Saric with Tatum. While Tatum can hold his own with just about anyone, Saric is the type of player that has given him some trouble. Saric can shoot it. He can put the ball on the floor and get to the rim. He’s a good rebounder. He’s also crafty with his moves. It’s going to be important for Tatum to avoid fouling and to really make sure he gets good position for rebounds. Saric is one of the better offensive rebounders in the league because he understands positioning and plays with a ton of effort.
Advantage: 76ers. Embiid is a monster. There isn’t any other way to put it. The Celtics best hope is that he commits lazy fouls, which he is prone to do, or that they can frustrate him into turnovers on offense. The Celtics best matchup against Embiid in the regular season was Daniel Theis, who used his quickness to negate Embiid’s usual advantage against most other bigs. Without Theis, a huge burden falls to Baynes.