The Celtics are coming off of their first road win of these playoffs. They are up 3-0 on the Philadelphia 76ers and are looking for a series sweep with a win in this game. It’s going to be a tough game for the Celtics as close out games on the road are the toughest games to win. No team has ever come back from an 0-3 deficit to win a series.
Teams are 129-0 when going up 3-0 in a series. The Celtics have led a best of 7 series 3-0 thirteen times from 1957 through 2011. In those series, the Celtics swept the series 5 times. They won 7 series in 5 games and they won 1 of the series in 6 games. None of the series where they were up 3-0 went to 7 games.
The Sixers have to be feeling a bit stung. They were 9 point favorites in Game 3 and thought they had the game won with Belinelli’s last second shot, which turned out to be a 2. Then there was the embarrassment of the confetti falling for a game tying shot and finally, they lost in overtime as they basically fell apart down the stretch. They have been favored in every game so far and opened as 6 point favorites for this game.
They will likely come out looking to hit the Celtics hard as their backs are to the wall and it is truly win or go home for them. The Celtics have to realize this and not take anything for granted. They have to be just as focused as the Sixers and be ready for them to be physical and desperate. The Celtics have to counter with tough defense and focused offense to close this series out.
Jaylen Brown has been playing with a sore hamstring and has been limited to 25 minutes per game. However, when Game 3 went into overtime, he was already at his 25 minutes for the game. He told the medical staff that he would play and that they needed to get that win and he would rest on Sunday. He said he felt good afterwards and so will likely play in this game also.
I think that Brad Stevens will stick with the same starting lineup as he has used in the first 3 games, even with Jaylen Brown available for this game. It’s a case of “if it’s not broke, don’t fix it.” If the Celtics can win this game, it would give Jaylen a chance to rest his hamstring and for the team to regroup before the start of the next series.
If both the Celtics/Sixers and Cavs/Raptors series end in 6 games or less, the Finals would start on Sunday 5/13 in Boston. The Cavs are on the verge of sweeping their series over the Raptors and it would be a mistake to let LeBron have extra days off and come into the Eastern Conference Finals well rested and with an advantage. Hopefully the Raptors can get at least one win in that series.
Probable Celtics Starters
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Daniel Theis (knee) out
Kyrie Irving (knee) out
Jaylen Brown (hamstring) probable
Probable 76ers Starters
Timothe Luwawu Cabarrot
Terry Rozier vs Ben Simmons
More than likely, Al Horford will once again get the job of guarding Simmons while Rozier will likely shift over to guard JJ Redick. So far, Simmons has been underwhelming in the series and hasn’t looked much like the Rookie of the Year. Jayson Tatum has been outplaying him so far. He has been frustrated and will look to come out strong in this one.
Aron Baynes vs Joel Embiid
Aron Baynes has done a good job of frustrating Joel Embiid so far. He has ended up tired by the end of games after having to fight Baynes for everything he gets inside. He is averaging 21.5 points and 12.8 rebounds per game but has had to fight for everything he gets.
Marcus Smart vs JJ Redick
If Al Horford covers Simmons, then I think Rozier shifts onto Redick and Smart would cover Saric. Redick is averaging 20.1 points, 1.5 rebounds and 2.5 assists per game in the post season. He is a tough cover because he moves well without the ball and will run through several screens as he tries to get open. However, he may also be the weak link in the Sixers defense.
Also Worth Mentioning
Celtics Bench vs Sixers Bench
With the injuries to Kyrie, Theis, and Hayward, the Celtics bench has taken a hit. Brown coming off the bench has given them a boost. He was somewhat limited in Game 2 but looked better in Game 3. Hopefully he will be close to 100% in this game. 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, 23 points in Game 2 and 30 points in Game 3. The Celtics bench contributed 19 points in Game 1, 30 points in Game 2, and just 11 points in Game 3. The Celtics need their bench to contribute more 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 third in the playoffs in scoring (109.1) while the Celtics are 8th (104.3). 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 held the Sixers to 98 points on 39% shooting in Game 3 and got 2 crucial steals in the final minute of the game. 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. The Celtics have won with their effort in the first 3 games and need to work even harder in this one if they want to close out the series.
Rebound - The Celtics need to crash the boards as so far they have been out-rebounded by the Sixers. The Sixers are first in the playoffs with 49.3 rebounds per game while the Celtics are 9th with 42.8 rebounds per game. The Celtics have been out-rebounded 95-85 so far in the series. The Sixers are first in the playoffs with 15.6 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 and make them pay.
Move the Ball and Stay Focused - The Celtics need to move the ball. 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 their time and not rush their shots or go away from the game plan. No Hero Ball!!! Play as a team on both ends of the court.
Road Game - Young players seem to struggle on the road and play well at home. The Sixers young players will play much better with the home crowd behind them and the Celtics have to stay focused and not let the hostile crowd and the distractions of the road keep them from playing their game.
Close Out Game Close out games on the road are the toughest to win. The opponent is always extra motivated and with their backs to the wall always play their hardest. The road atmosphere will make it tougher for the Celtics and so they have to have extra focus and effort if they want to get a win and close this series out.
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 Games 2 and 3 were good and let them play without letting the game get out of hand. Hopefully they can get the same in this one but there may be the agenda of trying to extend the series for financial reasons to the Celtics need to be ready for that.
With Scott Foster as the lead ref, it’s hard to tell what we will get in this one. At times he calls games one sided and is a tyrant with the whistle, calling every little thing and at other times he calls it evenly and lets them play. Tim Donaghy described Foster as a company man who will do what is asked of him to keep his seniority among refs.
Foster was part of the 2010 Finals game 7 officiating crew that called the final quarter completely different than the first 3 quarters and very one sided for the Lakers with 21 free throws for the Lakers and 6 for the Celtics in the final 12 minutes. He was voted the worst referee in the league by the players and coaches in an LA Times article. Here is a comment from that article:
Tony Brothers is a name that strikes fear and loathing in pretty much every fan base in the league. He has been good in some games with the Celtics and awful in others. His home W/L record is 35-28. The Celtics are 5-5 in their last 10 games overall with Brothers but have lost the last 7 playoff games that he has called. He is very unpredictable and can be good or absolutely terrible.