After a well-deserved three-game home stand, Boston hits the road again to face the Sixers tonight and the Hornets in Charlotte on Saturday. The Celtics will be coming off a tough home loss to the Nuggets on Monday night where they just could not get the run they needed without Denver matching on the other end. The team will need to be able to overcome that adversity tonight if they stand a chance against a hot Philadelphia team playing some of their best basketball of their season.
The Sixers are currently on a five game win streak which included an impressive victory on the road against the Milwaukee Bucks on Sunday. It was a primetime game on ABC, and they brought another level that we have not seen since the addition of Tobias Harris. Butler, Harris, and Embiid (with 40 points) all scored in double digits which took them the distance against a 52-point performance from Giannis Antetokounmpo.
During this five-game win streak, Philadelphia has a 115.0 offensive rating and a 106.1 defensive rating for the third best net rating over this time span. Embiid has continued to lead the team, but Jimmy Butler has also gotten in a groove offensively over the past few games averaging 21.0 points a bump up from his season average. However, as we all know to this point, the Celtics are the Sixers kryptonite, and there is no telling what is going to happen in tonight’s game.
The Celtics have won all three previous matchups against the Sixers this season. It is crazy to this point how much real estate the Celtics own in the heads of the Sixers’ players. Either Al Horford stretching out Joel Embiid, everyone sagging off Ben Simmons and clogging the paint, or exploiting bench matchups every chance they get, Brad Stevens and the Celtics know exactly how to slow down this Philadelphia team.
For tonight, the game plan will probably be the same. Brett Brown has not changed anything to this point to believe in the Sixers against the Celtics. Maybe their team will come out riding the win streak and start off hot, but if the past three other games have showed anything, the Celtics will also have a good chance to win against this Sixers team.
The key tonight, and again in this matchup, is Al Horford. As mentioned, Horford completely throws a wrench into the normal game plan with Joel Embiid. He does not know how to go about guarding Horford because of how uncomfortable Embiid is outside of the paint. It happens time and time again of either Embiid closing out too late leading to a three or Horford being able to drive past him for a layup. Either option is a positive possession for the Celtics. Then, if there needs to be a change of pace, Aron Baynes can come in to contribute. As always, Horford (and Baynes to an extent) is the key for the Celtics.
The Celtics will only be without Gordon Hayward for tonight’s game. He is remaining in NBA concussion protocol after colliding with John Collins on a screen late in the first quarter of Saturday’s win over the Hawks. He came up woozy right after and went straight back to the locker room. He was not in the game Monday against the Nuggets, but he hopes to join the team again in Charlotte. Outside of Hayward, only Horford is on the injury report but is probable with his nagging knee soreness. He should be good to go for this one.
The starting lineup will be more of the same tonight. Against Philadelphia, they have had great success with this starting five, so there should not be any changes. Hopefully Jaylen Brown will continue his uptick in minutes as he is playing as the best scorer on the team not named Kyrie. He is fitting well in his bench role which should continue tonight if he can feast on a weaker Philadelphia bench unit. We can also expect a great game between these teams. The Celtics will try and finish off the season sweep.
PG – Kyrie Irving – Ben Simmons
SG – Marcus Smart – J.J. Reddick
SF – Jayson Tatum – Jimmy Butler
PF – Marcus Morris – Tobias Harris
C – Al Horford – Joel Embiid
Boston – Gordon Hayward (Concussion Protocol); Al Horford (Knee Soreness)
Philadelphia – Furkan Korkmaz (Knee); Zhaire Smith (Foot); Shake Milton (Finger)
How To Watch
Time - 7:00 EST
TV – ESPN / NBC Sports Boston