The Celtics visit the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd of 4 games between them this season. The Sixers beat the Celtics on opening night in Philadelphia 107-93. They also beat the Celtics in their first trip to the TD Garden, winning 115-109 on December 12. They will face each other one more time in Boston on February 1.
The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games, losing a tough game in Boston to the San Antonio Spurs. They also had to travel to Philadelphia to face the Sixers who last played on Monday night. This will be the Celtics 5th game in 7 days. The Celtics are 3-2 on the second night of back to back games and 2-0 when the games are home/road.
The Celtics got Kemba Walker back after he missed three games with the flu. He should be well rested for this one though, since he was ejected for the first time in his career after playing just 17 minutes on Wednesday night. Daniel Theis was a game time decision on Wednesday with a sore leg but he played against the Spurs and will likely play in this game as well.
Vincent Poirier (finger) and Robert Williams (hip) are still out for this game. Romeo Langford is out as well. Tacko Fall has been called up from the Red Claws for the game against the Spurs and this game also. Tremont Waters did not play on Wednesday so I am not sure if he is still with the team or if he has returned to the Red Claws.
Joel Embiid is expected to miss this game with a finger injury. He had 38 points and 13 rebounds in the last game between them and they will miss him in this one. Since Embiid was drafted, the Sixers are 1-11 against the Celtics without him. When Embiid was out in December, Mike Scott started in his place with Scott playing the four and Al Horford moving over to play the center position. I’m guessing they will do the same in this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III (hip) questionable
Romeo Langford (illness) out
Vincent Poirier (finger) out
Daniel Theis (leg) probable
Two Way Players
Probable 76ers Starters
James Ennis III
Joel Embiid (finger) out
Zhaire Smith (gleague assignment) out
Two Way Players
Gordon Hayward vs Tobias Harris
This is a key matchup, not only because Harris is averaging 19.5 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.0 assists, but because the Celtics need Hayward to play well also. Harris is shooting 48% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. 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.
Kemba Walker vs Ben Simmons
Simmons is averaging 14.9 points, 7.3 rebounds, 8.6 assists, and 2.2 steals per game. He is shooting 57% from the field and 40% on threes, but he has only made 2 of 5 threes on the season. Last season Kemba averaged 37 points per game against the Sixers and hopefully he can have a big game in this one. If Kemba struggles defensively against Simmons, we may see Marcus Smart guarding him at times.
Daniel Theis vs Al Horford
If the Sixers do the same thing this time as they did the last time Embiid was out, Al Horford will slide over to the center in Embiid’s place. Al is averaging 12.3 points, 6.5 rebounds, and 3.7 assists per game. He is shooting 45% from the field and 34% from beyond the arc. He has been unhappy with his role in Philly but I expect him to play hard against his former team and Theis and Kanter and maybe even Tacko will need to keep him from having a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics have let their defense slip over the past few games. They allowed the Spurs to shoot over 55% for the game and they won’t win many games with that lack of defense. Granted they have been going through a tough stretch of games with 5 games in 7 nights, but they still have to make defense a priority. Both the Spurs and the Wizards got whatever shots they wanted and the Celtics can’t let that happen in this game if they want to win. 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. Much of rebounding is effort and the Celtics must put out extra effort on the boards.
Move the Ball Carefully - Over the past two games, the Celtics have been sloppy with the ball. They have to focus on making making careful passes while still moving the ball and finding the open man. They have been lapsing into too much dribbling and trying to do too much, especially when they get down. That’s the opposite of what they need to do to get back into the game. They have to move the ball and not lose their focus.
Start Strong and Play Hard - The last few games, the Celtics have come out very flat and found themselves with a double digit deficit in the first quarter. The Celtics simply can’t keep letting that happen. They have to come out and play hard right from the beginning and continue to play hard right up to the final buzzer. They have to show effort on both ends of the court for 48 minutes. They have allowed their opponents to be the team that played harder and if they want to win, they have to be the team that plays harder and wants to win more.
Don’t Underestimate the Opponent - Possibly the Celtics poor play may have resulted from them underestimating their opponents. The Wizards were missing pretty much most of their starters and half their bench. Both the Wizards and Spurs came in with a losing record and the Celtics may have expected to waltz to a win. But every team seems to play harder against the Celtics and if the Celtics don’t give it their all in return, they are going to get blown out, even by the bottom teams.
On the Road - The Celtics are playing the Sixers in Philadelphia. The Wells Fargo Center will be loud and filled with a hostile crowd. The Celtics need to stay focused and block out the distractions that come from playing on the road and in a hostile arena.
Fatigue - The Celtics are playing on the second night of back to back games. They are also playing in the 5th game in 7 nights with travel in between the games. They have to be tired but they also have to find a way to dig deep and find the energy to play hard for 48 minutes.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor but in some games more than others. Against the Spurs we saw where the officiating can have a direct effect on the outcome. The Celtics had cut the deficit to 7 and had the momentum when a rookie ref missed an offensive foul and then made a bad call. He gave Kemba 2 quick technical fouls and Kemba was ejected and the Spurs got 5 free throws. The momentum was lost and the Celtics never recovered.
Every crew is going to call it differently and every crew will make bad calls. The Celtics simply can’t allow the bad calls and the no calls to get to them and make them lose their focus. They have to adjust to the way the game is called and stay focused on playing Celtics basketball.