This is one of the most storied playoff rivalries in NBA history. They have played 19 series over the years, with the Celtics winning 12 of them. They have played exactly 100 games vs each other in the playoffs with Boston leading 54-46. They last met in the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, which the Celtics won in 7 games.
The rich history between these teams includes Game 7 of the 1965 Eastern Conference Finals when “Havlicek stole the Ball.” The Sixers ended the Celtics run of 8 straight championships in 1967 but the Celtics came back the next year and came back from 3-1 to beat the Sixers in the Eastern Conference Finals. In 1982, the Sixers once again led 3-1 and the Celtics came back to tie the series. But the Sixers won game 7 in Boston and this is when the “Beat LA” chant was born.
The Celtics won the season series 3-1 but since then, both teams have changed considerably. The Sixers added both Marco Belinelli and Ersan Ilyasova while the Celtics lost Kyrie Irving and Daniel Theis to injuries. Both teams feature one of the league’s best rookies and one of the best 2nd year players.
These teams will forever be linked by the draft trade that sent the #1 pick to Philly for the #3 pick and a probable lottery pick. So far, it looks like Boston won that trade as Tatum has played very well and has been an integral part of the Celtics success. Fultz on the other hand struggled with his shot and has been out for most of the season.
The Sixers have won 20 of their last 21 games. They finished the regular season on a 16 game win streak. They also finished their series over the Heat in 5 games. There is some question as to whether their win streak was the result of their playing excellent basketball or playing inferior opponents. 13 of their 16 wins to end the season were against non-playoff teams.
They beat the Cavs who were resting players down the stretch and the other two wins were against the Bucks and Timberwolves, both of which weren’t at full strength. The Heat weren’t the strongest of playoff teams. Their lone star is on the verge of retirement and the rest of the team consists of inconsistent role players.
The Sixers have no injuries listed as of now while the Celtics are still without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis. They may also be missing Jaylen Brown who left Game 7 vs the Bucks with a hamstring injury. He is determined to play and said he is feeling better, but Brad Stevens won’t take a chance if he’s not 100%. Marcus Smart may start at shooting guard or they may move Jayson Tatum to shooting guard and start Marcus Morris at small forward.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (questionable)
Probable 76ers Starters
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Terry Rozier vs Ben Simmons
The 6’10”Simmons will have a distinct height advantage on pretty much any point guard. Simmons is averaging 18.2 points, 10.6 rebounds, 9.0 assists, and 2.4 steals in the playoffs. He is shooting 50% from the field and has not shot a 3 pointer this season. Versus the Celtics this season, he averaged 12.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 4.8 assists in the 4 regular season games. Expect Al Horford to guard Simmons for the most part and Rozier to move over to cover Coviington.
Aron Baynes vs Joel Embiid
The Celtics started Semi to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo but I’m thinking that Brad will go back to Aron Baynes at center to match up with Embiid. Embiid is averaging 18.7 points, 10.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 3.0 blocks per game in the playoffs. He averaged 17.6 points on 38.5%shooting in the 4 games vs the Celtics this season. He will definitely be a tough cover for any of the Celtics who are matched up against him.
Marcus Smart (or?) vs JJ Redick
As stated above, I’m not sure who will start at shooting guard. It may be Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, or anyone else on the roster for that matter. Redick is averaging 20 points, 0.8 rebounds, and 2.6 assists and is shooting 45.5% from the field and 35.1% from beyond the arc. The Celtics definitely need to stay with him on defense.
Also Worth Mentioning
Celtics Bench vs Sixers Bench
With the injuries to Kyrie, Theis, Hayward, and now Brown, the Celtics bench has taken a hit. They will depend on Morris, Monroe, Larkin, Semi, and Smart to play well on both ends of the court. The Sixers have super sub Marco Belinelli, who is averaging 16.6 points, 2.6 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.2 steals while shooting 41.7 points from the field and 37.5% from beyond the arc. Former Celtic Amir Johnson, Markelle Fultz, and Ersan Ilyasova also play well for them off the bench.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense wins Championships. The Celtics were the best defensive team in the league during the regular season, but during the playoffs, their defense has slipped. In their wins, they got back to playing tough defense, but their lack of focus on defense was obvious in their losses. The Celtics have a defensive rating of 107.7, which is 11th in the playoffs. The Sixers have a defensive rating of 101.6, which is 2nd. The Sixers are first in the playoffs in scoring (114.2) while the Celtics are 10th (102.4). If they hope to win, the Celtics must get back to their tough, lock down defense.
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.
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 playoffs with 50 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 8th with 43.1 rebounds per game. The Sixers are first in the playoffs with 16.2 second chance points per game. 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 - The Celtics need to move the ball and play as a team on both ends of the court. They have to move the ball and find the open man and not lapse into hero ball. They have to play tough team defense and trust each other on both ends of the court. They have to attack the basket if their 3’s aren’t falling. Most of all, they have to play with extra effort and focus.
Home Game - So far, the Celtics have won their home games and will once again need to get a boost from the loud home crowd. The Sixers won two games in Miami on the way to their 5 game win over the Heat. Ilyasova mentioned that the Heat’s arena was half empty much of the time and that he knows that the Garden is always full and loud, even in the regular season. Hopefully the Celtics will continue to protect home court.
Rust vs Rest - the Celtics are coming off a tough 7 game series with just 1 day to rest and prepare for the Sixers. On the other hand, the Sixers had a fairly easy 5 game series and have been sitting at home for almost a week waiting for the Bucks and Celtics to beat each other up. Sometimes being off that long works against a team as they come out a bit rusty. On the other hand, they will be rested while the Celtics may be a bit fatigued after their 7 game series.
Officiating - The officiating is always an X-Factor. Sometimes the officiating is very good and they let both teams play and call it evenly. Other times the refs may have an agenda vs a player or a team and call it one sided. In the Celtics Games 1, 2 and 7 the officiating was good. But in Games 3, 4 and 5, we saw a lot of bad calls going both ways and the players were frustrated because they didn’t know what to expect from the refs. We saw the Cavs get 40 free throws to 24 for the Pacers in their Game 7 and the officiating was pretty much one sided with way too many foul calls. Hopefully, this game will be called fairly and they will let them play.
Mark Davis is the lead referee in this game and in an LA Times survey in 2016, players and coaches voted him one of the worst referees in the league so he may very well be an X-factor. Here are a couple of quotes from the article about Davis:
“He’s cool as they come, but he’s so arrogant,” one player said. “He instigates things sometimes. Marc will go back at a player. He forgets that he’s talking to another man. Don’t challenge a man’s manhood. Now you are going too far.”
“Marc Davis is hands down the worst,” a player said. “He acts likes he’s your friend, but he’ll just screw you. He’ll screw you and he’ll get the biggest attitude about it.”
Davis did call Game 2 of the Bucks series and did a pretty good job but he is one of the refs that officiates with an agenda, so who knows what we will get in this game. He averages 38.6 fouls called per game with 49% of those calls going against the home team. His home team W/L record is 36-29.