This is the first preseason game for both of these teams. The Celtics and Sixers last met in the first round of the playoffs in the bubble, where the Celtics swept the Sixers. Both teams are changed since last season with the biggest change being that former Celtics coach Doc Rivers has taken over as head coach of the Sixers in place of Brett Brown.
Doc has said that he plans for the Sixers to increase their pace this season and also to run more pick and rolls. He also said he plans to improve their defense. He plans to use Simmons as a point forward and the offense will still run through him. Simmons will also guard the opponent’s top wing every night.
Tobias Harris struggled somewhat in Brett Brown’s system but he played much better in Doc Rivers’ system when both were with the Clippers. The Sixers offense often was stagnant last season but they have added a couple of shooters in Danny Green and Seth Curry, which should help with some of their offensive woes from last season.
The 76ers have added Dwight Howard, Seth Curry, Danny Green, Tony Bradley, Terrance Ferguson, and former Celtic Vincent Poirier. They have also added first round pick, Tyrese Maxey. Gone from the 76ers are Josh Richardson, Raul Neto, Zhaire Smith, and former Celtic Al Horford, .
The Celtics lost Gordon Hayward, Enes Kanter and Brad Wanamaker, all of whom were key members of the rotation last season. They also parted ways with Vincent Poirier, who played very little. They have added Tristan Thompson and Jeff Teague, both of whom fill definite needs for the team. Also added are draft picks Payton Pritchard and Aaron Nesmith, both of whom have gotten positive reviews for their performances in training camp so far.
As with any preseason game, it’s very hard to predict the starting lineups or the rotations. It is especially hard to predict with only 2 preseason games. Will the coaches use their regular starters or will they give the players on the bubble more playing time to figure out who stays and who goes. The starters I’ve listed are just a best guess from reading previews. It is especially hard to predict with all the injuries the Celtics have been dealing with. Both teams have camp invites including Amile Jefferson for the Celtics and Justin Anderson for the Sixers.
The Sixers dealt with injuries early but going into the first game, they have no injuries listed. Thybulle missed part of camp with an ankle injury but was back at practice last week. Danny Green was unable to practice with the team until December 8 when the trade was completed. Maxey and Scott also first practiced on 12/8 due to positive covid tests.
Kemba Walker is expected to be out until at least mid-January after having a stem cell injection in the knee that has bothered him for the better part of last season. Tristan Thompson is dealing with a hamstring injury and has yet to practice with the team. Romeo Langford is still recovering from surgery on his wrist. Payton Pritchard dislocated a finger in practice but is good to go for this game. Daniel Theis is out with tightness in his back.
Possible Celtics Starters
PG: Jeff Teague
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Daniel Theis
Tacko Fall (2 Way)
Tremont Waters (2 Way)
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Tristan Thompson (hamstring) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Daniel Theis (back) out
Possible 76ers Starters
PG: Seth Curry
SG: Danny Green
SF: Ben Simmons
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Dakota Matthias (2 Way)
Paul Reed (2 Way)
Jaylen Brown vs Ben Simmons
Jaylen has grown as a player from year to year and I expect he will continue that growth this season. The big question is whether Simmons will ever shoot 3 pointers. Simmons is coming back from an injury that kept him out of the playoffs last season and will likely be working his way back into game shape.
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
Joel Embiid is always a key matchup for any opponent. Assuming that Robert Williams is the starter for the Celtics, he will have his hands full with trying to guard Embiid.
Keys to the Game
Find the Best Rotation - In the preseason, the key is to experiment with lineups and find the combinations that work best together. We often see strange lineups as coaches experiment with their rotation and look for chemistry among their players.
Watch New Players - Often coaches give their rookies and new players and players who could be on the bubble of making the team extra minutes to see what they can do before the season begins. We may see some Aaron Nesmith and Amile Jefferson as Brad looks to see what they can do.
Ease Into the Season - The last thing either team needs is an injury to a key player. While the key players will get minutes, I don’t expect either coach to push their players big minutes and will try to ease them back into game shape and competition.
Preseason - This is just the first preseason game for both teams and so I don’t expect either team to push too hard. It will likely be sloppy as all of the new players on both teams get used to playing with each other after a very short training camp.
Rivalry - Regardless of whether it is the preseason, or the regular season, or the playoffs, these two teams are rivals. I expect the Sixers to want revenge for the sweep in the playoffs and the Celtics to want to prove that their playoff win wasn’t a fluke because Simmons was out. It will probably still be sloppy, but I expect both teams to play hard.