The Celtics begin the 2019-20 season on the road against their division rival Philadelphia 76ers. The biggest story between these two teams in the offseason was that the Celtics’ Embiid stopper, Al Horford, left the Celtics and signed with the 76ers to play along side of Embiid, rather than have to guard him.
These two teams will meet 3 more times this season: December 12 and February 1 in Boston and January 9 in Philadelphia. The Celtics lead the all time series 177-121. The Sixers have seemingly improved their starting lineup over the offseason and boast one of the biggest and strongest front lines in the league.
The front line of 6’10” Al Horford next to 7’0” Joel Embiid will give most teams in the league problems. The Celtics are expected to start 6’8” Jayson Tatum opposite Horford and 6’8” Daniel Theis opposite Embiid. The Celtics started Theis in the preseason but they didn’t face any dominant centers in the preseason so it’s anyone’s guess who Brad starts at center in this game.
I originally had Theis starting at center but the Celtics’ Game Notes show Enes Kanter starting so I am going to put him in the starting lineup. Although it is possible that the Celtics may start Vincent Poirier who has the size and athleticism to match up with Embiid a little better or even Robert Williams, who started a couple of preseason games or they may go with Theis. The only center I know won’t be starting is Tacko Fall, who is out with a concussion.
The Celtics went 4-0 in the preseason but didn’t face any really strong teams, beating Charlotte, Orlando and Cleveland twice. The Sixers went 4-1 in the preseason, and also didn’t face any of the tops teams, beating Guangzhou Loong-Lions, Charlotte, Orlando, and Detroit, and losing to Washington. So, this will be the first big test for both of these teams.
The Sixers do have some questions surrounding them. They lost some of their best shooters in the offseason and will need to see if they can replace that. So far, it didn’t look good as they shot just 31.8% from beyond the arc during the preseason. They also have questions about their depth in that after their starting five, there is a big talent drop off.
Just as the Sixers lost some of their depth and shooting, the Celtics lost some of their defense when Aron Baynes, Marcus Morris, and especially Al Horford left. The Celtics led the league with a defensive rating of 84.7 in the preseason. Philadelphia was right behind the Celtics in second place with a defensive rating of 91.7. But again, neither team faced any of the top teams.
The 76ers have just Raul Neto on the injured list with a hamstring injury. He is listed as day to day. Gordon Hayward missed Monday’s practice with an illness but was back at practice on Tuesday and is expected to play in this game. Robert Williams (concussion) is also expected to play in this game. Romeo Langford (knee) was limited in practice on Monday and is listed as out for this game. Tacko Fall is in the concussion protocol and is also listed as out.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Jaylen Brown
SF: Gordon Hayward
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Enes Kanter
Gordon Hayward (illness) probable
Robert Williams III (concussion) probable
Romeo Langford (knee) out
Tacko Fall (concussion) day to day
Two Way Players
Probable Sixers Starters
James Ennis III
Raul Neto (hamstring) day to day
Two Way Players
Kemba Walker vs Ben Simmons
Simmons averaged 16.9 points, 8.8 rebounds, 7.7 assists, and 1.4 steals last season. He shot 56.3% from the field but didn’t shoot any threes all season. He hit one 3 in the preseason and that may be a sign of things to come, or maybe not. Last season Kemba averaged 37 points per game against the Sixers and hopefully can score against them again this season. If Kemba struggles defensively against Simmons, we may see Marcus Smart guarding him at times.
Gordon Hayward vs Tobias Harris
This is a key matchup, not only because Harris averaged 20 points, 7.9 rebounds, and 2.8 assists last season, but also because the Celtics need to have Gordon Hayward back to 100% after he struggled last season after returning from the ankle injury. Hayward will need to play strong on both ends of the court to limit Harris’ effectiveness on defense and to be a playmaker and scorer on offense.
Enes Kanter/Vincent Poirier/Daniel Theis/Robert Williams vs Joel Embiid
Daniel Theis appeared to win the starting center position in preseason but the Celtics didn’t face a big, strong center like Embiid in the preseason. Brad may choose to start Poirier, who would match up in size better and who is a good defender, or even Robert Williams, who started a couple of games in the preseason. Enes Kanter is listed in the game notes as the starter and he has played well against Embiid in the past but Brad Stevens said he will not name his starters until just before game time. Embiid averaged 27.5 points, 13.6 rebounds, 3.7 assists, and 1.9 blocks last season. It will likely be center by committee for the Celtics, no matter who starts.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics have committed to playing tough defense this season and hopefully will have the personnel to do so. It will be very important for the Celtics to play tough team defense and keep the Sixers from finding any rhythm on offense.
Rebound - With the size of the Sixers front line and starters, the Celtics are going to have to work hard in order to get rebounds. They need to keep the Sixers from getting second chance points around the basket and they need to give themselves extra possessions by rebounding on the offensive end. They can’t score without the ball and so they need to rebound to get it.
Move the Ball - The Celtics have committed to teamwork this season and that will start with unselfishness on the part of each player and moving the ball and not playing hero ball, which never leads to good things. Hopefully we will see the benefit of the chemistry and camaraderie off the court will lead to good chemistry and ball movement on the court.
Effort and Focus- Last season, we didn’t always see the Celtics giving their best effort in games and they often seemed to lose focus. This season they have vowed to be different and play hard in every game. We will need to see 100% effort from every player and they need to stay focused if they want to get a win in this game.
Run!!! - The Celtics have a mostly young team and the Sixers have an older power forward and a center who tires easily along with a bench that is as yet unproven. The Celtics need to run on every possession and wear the Sixers starters out.
On the Road - The Celtics are opening their season on the road. The Wells Fargo Center should be loud and filled with fans who are excited for their team, which has been highly rated this season. The Celtics will be depending on some of their younger players and hopefully they can stay focused in a hostile environment.
Chemistry - Both teams lost key players and both teams are trying to incorporate new players this season. It may take a few games for the players to get used to each other on both teams. Which team will have better chemistry and so have stronger team play?