Bench: Marcus Smart, Marcus Morris, Semi Ojeleye, Greg Monroe, Shane Larkin, Guerschon Yabusele, Abdel Nader vs Marco Belinelli, Ersan Ilyasova, Amir Johnson, T.J. McConnell, Markelle Fultz, Justin Anderson
The Celtics depth has been tested all year and will be challenged again if Jaylen Brown is out. If Brown can’t go, that slides Smart into the starting lineup and likely forces other rotation changes as well. If Brown can play, Boston can hold their own against Philly’s bench. Smart will function as almost a sixth starter and will make all the “winning plays” everyone has come to expect. He’ll defend everyone from Simmons to Saric and everyone in between.
Marcus Morris might be the Celtics key reserve in this series. Points should be at a premium, so Morris’ ability to score will be key for the Celtics. He has to do it consistently and efficiently though, which was a challenge in the Milwaukee series. Morris is at his best when he can attack the paint for layups or short fall-aways. When he settles for long-twos off the dribble, everything goes sideways for Boston.
Semi Ojeleye stepped up big for Boston against the Bucks and Antetokounmpo. He’ll be called upon to do some of the same against Simmons. On offense, he finally got aggressive attacking closeouts late in the Bucks series. The Celtics need that to continue.
Greg Monroe should re-emerge as part of the rotation, because Philly almost always plays two traditional bigs. He was rendered ineffective against the Bucks, because Milwaukee went small. Monroe should be able to put up some points inside against the Philly reserves, and any easy offense is welcomed by the Celtics.
Shane Larkin will have to do his energy thing off the bench. He can break down the Sixers backup guards off the bounce, which he did regularly against Matthew Dellavedova in the first round. Again, any easy offense is found money for Boston.
Guerschon Yabusele might see some minutes, simply as another body to throw against Embiid. And Abdel Nader could see some time if Brown is out. If the Celtics are playing these two and have to go more than nine deep, things probably aren’t going their way.
For the 76ers, the additions of Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova have made all the difference. Philly needed more shooting and they provide it. Just as importantly, they needed more veteran presence. Both of these players provide that. Belinelli can be instant offense off the bench. He’ll shoot it from anywhere, as soon as he touches it. Boston has to be prepared for that. He plays the shooter role and runs off screens when he plays behind Redick. However, Philadelphia has started to play him with Redick more as of late, and they become nearly impossible to guard when Belinelli is hitting shots. Simmons has his pick of shooters in that lineup and often takes advantage of it.
Ilyasova pairs with old friend Amir Johnson to give Philadelphia two quality bigs off the bench. Both are good positional defenders, solid screeners and good ball movers. Johnson sticks to doing what he’s best at. He runs the floor, defends and screens. Ilyasova adds a shooting component the Sixers were missing from their other bigs. He draws his defender away from the paint and lets it fly with confidence. If he’s on, he’ll be a problem for the Boston bigs.
T.J. McConnell plays a similar role for Philadelphia to the one Larkin plays for the Celtics. He bring energy and defense to the floor. Saying he’s a reluctant shooter is putting it kindly. Boston may want to play a mile off McConnell and force him to take jumpers. He can make them, but he doesn’t want to even take them. Forcing him to be an uncomfortable scorer would be a win for Boston.
Markelle Fultz returned to the lineup late in the regular season and gave Philly some scoring punch off the bench. Against Miami, he looked unprepared for the physicality of the postseason and was played off the floor. He’ll probably get another chance against Boston, but Brett Brown will bench him quickly if he’s not ready. Justin Anderson remains a deeper bench option for the Sixers, but he probably won’t see much time in this series.
Advantage: 76ers. Unlike the Bucks series, where the Celtics had the advantage of having reserves who knew their role, the Sixers take that advantage this time around. Their vets and McConnell know exactly what is expected of them and stay within themselves. Belinelli might like to heat-check on occasion, but that’s part of his deal. With the uncertainty of Brown’s availability, which throws Stevens’ rotation into flux, Philadelphia has the advantage here.