The series shifts to Philadelphia as the Celtics and 76ers face off in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Celtics were a good road team in the regular season with a 28-13 record, which was first in the East and 3rd in the league. Philly was a very good home team with a 30-11 record at home in the regular season.
The Celtics were unable to win a game on the road in the first round with the series going to 7 games. They have home court advantage in this series as well and would not have to win on the road to win the series, but it would also be nice to get a win on the road and finish out the series without having to go to 7 games again.
Jalen Brown missed Game 1 with a sore hamstring. He talked the team medical staff into letting him play in Game 2 and played 25 minutes. His hamstring was sore after the game and so I imagine that they will need to make a decision once again at game time whether he will be able to play. He will go through shoot around and they will decide then if he is able to play. He has said that he definitely plans to play in this game.
Since Marcus Smart has worked out very well in the starting lineup and Brown is likely to be limited once again, I think Brad will stick with Smart with the starters. The Sixers are at full strength with no injuries listed while the Celtics are still without Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Daniel Theis. I expect Brown to once again talk his way into playing, but the Celtics need hiim at full strength, not limited by the hamstring.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (probable/game time decision)
Probable 76ers Starters
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Terry Rozier vs Ben Simmons
The 6’10”Simmons will have a distinct height advantage on Rozier, but Rozier will likely not be guarding Simmons in this game. More than likely, Horford will once again get the job of guarding Simmons. Rozier will likely shift over to guard JJ Redick. Simmons will be motivated to have a big game in this one after scoring just 1 point and turning the ball over 5 times in Game 2.
Aron Baynes vs Joel Embiid
Aron Baynes did a good job of defending Embiid in Game 1 without the Celtics needing to run double teams at him. He scored 31 points and pulled down 13 rebounds, but Baynes was able to keep him away from the basket for the most part. 5 of his 12 field goals were out of the paint. In Game 2, he scored just 20 points on 36.4% shooting from the floor and 16.7% from beyond the arc.
Marcus Smart vs JJ Redick
If Al Horford covers Simmons, then I think Rozier shifts onto Redick and Smart would cover Saric. Redick had 20 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists in Game 1 but he shot just 2-7 from beyond the arc. He was the reason the 76ers charged out to a 22 point lead in the 2nd quarter of Game 2, scoring 23 points and shooting 53% from the field and 56% from beyond the arc. He is a tough cover because he moves well without the ball and will run through several screens as he tries to get open.
Also Worth Mentioning
Celtics Bench vs Sixers Bench
With the injuries to Kyrie, Theis, Hayward, and possibly Brown, the Celtics bench has taken a hit. They will depend on Morris, Monroe, Larkin, and Semi to play well on both ends of the court. Hopefully Brown will be healthy to play, which will give the bench a boost. The Sixers bench averaged 35.6 points in the first round, which is the best of any team in the playoffs. Their bench scored 17 in Game 1 and 23 points in Game 2. The Celtics bench contributed 19 points in Game 1 and 30 points in Game 2, boosted by 13 from Brown. The Celtics need their bench to contribute on offense and also play tough defense.
Keys to the Game
Defense - The old saying that Defense wins Championships is very true. The Sixers are second in the playoffs in scoring (110.7) while the Celtics are 9th (104.7). In Game 1, the Celtics got back to playing tough defense, especially on the perimeter, holding the Sixers to 101 points and 19% shooting from beyond the arc. They let up on defense a bit in Game 2 but clamped down at the end to get the win. They need to play tough defense especially on the road since the Sixers will likely shoot better at home.
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 with the crowd behind them and the Celtics have to match their intensity.
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 49.1 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 9th with 42.1 rebounds per game. The Celtics have been out-rebounded 45-36 so far in the series. The Sixers are first in the playoffs with 16.7 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 Hard 48 Minutes - The Celtics started off slowly in game 2, looking sluggish on both ends of the court. They can’t afford a slow start on the road and need to come out and play hard from the opening tip right up until the final buzzer. If they have a slow start or let down during the game at any time, the Sixers will be sure to take advantage.
Move the Ball and Stay Focused - The Celtics need to move the ball. So far they are averaging 27 assists per game to 22 for the Sixers. They play best when they share the ball and find the open man. When they try to do too much individually, it rarely works out well. They also have to stay focused and take good shots and not rush their shots or go away from the game plan.
Road Game - The Celtics were unable to win on the road in the first round, in spite of being a good road team in the regular season. Young players seem to struggle on the road and play well at home. The Celtics young players need to stay focused and not let the hostile crowd rattle them. The Sixers young players will play much better with the home crowd behind them and to the Celtics have to play better to match that.
Jaylen Brown - Jaylen talked his way into playing in Game 2 but was sore afterwards. I’m sure he will try to play again in this game regardless of whether he is sore or not. If he is not limited by the hamstring, he will give the Celtics a boost. If he can’t play or is limited, others will need to step up.
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. Much of it depends on the referees assigned to the game. The refs in Game 2 were good and let them play without letting the team get out of hand. Hopefully they can get the same in this one.
Derrick Stafford, the lead official, can be a hot head and has been quick to call technicals. He has been disciplined for getting into a shouting match with former Celtics assistant Lawrence Frank. He is one of the few refs in the league who favors the road teams. Home teams win just 49% of the games he calls. He averages 39 fouls called per game and 50.8% of those are called on the home team. The Celtics are 8-2 in their last 10 games. He called game 7 against the Bucks and they let both teams play without calling a lot of fouls on either team.