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Preview: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Game #48

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The Celtics seek to avoid being swept as they host the Philadelphia 76ers.

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers make their second and final visit to the TD Garden in the regular season. This is the final meeting between these two teams this season. They played on opening night in Philadelphia when the Sixers won 107-93. Philly won 107-93 on December 12 in Boston and they beat the Celtics a third time 109-98 in Philadelphia on January 9.

Al Horford will make his second return to the TD Garden since he left the Celtics for the 76ers in free agency. He should get a warm welcome when announced, but after that, he is the enemy. Also of interest is Matisse Thybulle. The Celtics drafted Thybulle with the 20th pick in exchange for the Sixers’ 24th and the 33rd picks (Grant Williams and Carsen Edwards. Thybulle is proving to be an elite defender and is shooting 36.6% from beyond the arc.

The Celtics come into this game on a 3 game home win streak and have won their last 2 games overall. The 76ers have lost their last 2 road games. The Celtics are 3rd in the East, tied with the Heat, but the Celtics own the tie breaker. The Sixers are 6th in the East, 2 games behind the Celtics and 9.5 games ahead of 7th place. The Celtics are 19-5 at home while the Sixers are 9-16 on the road. Both teams are 6-4 in their last 10 games. If the season ended today, these two teams would meet in the first round of the playoffs.

The Celtics have won 5 of their last 6 games and their last 2 games. The Sixers have won 6 of their last 8 games but lost their last game on Thursday to the Atlanta Hawks. This is the second of 4 consecutive road games for the 76ers. They lost to Atlanta on Thursday and after this game will move on to play the Heat on Monday and the Bucks on Thursday.

Kemba Walker is out for this game and Monday’s game with the Hawks with knee soreness. Marcus Smart will likely start in his place. Enes Kanter is also out for this game. Robert Williams remains out. Carsen Edwards has been assigned to the Red Claws and Tacko Fall has been recalled from the Red Claws for extra size against the lengthy Sixers team.

Al Horford missed Thursday’s game in Atlanta with knee soreness but is expected to return for this game. Joel Embiid returned to their lineup for their last game after missing 9 games with a hand injury and is expected to play in this game. Josh Richardson, who scored 29 points in the last game between these two teams, is out with a hamstring injury.

Probable Celtics Starters

Celtics Reserves
Javonte Green
Semi Ojeleye
Vincent Poirier
Tacko Fall
Brad Wanamaker
Grant Williams
Romeo Langford

Injuries
Robert Williams III (hip) out
Enes Kanter (hip) out
Kemba Walker (knee) out
Carsen Edwards (G-League) out

Two Way Players
Tremont Waters
Tacko Fall

Head Coach
Brad Stevens

Probable 76ers Starters

Sixers Reserves
Trey Burke
James Ennis III
Furkan Korkmaz
Shake Milton
Kyle O’Quinn
Mike Scott
Matisse Thybulle
Raul Neto
Jonah Bolden
Zhaire Smith

Injuries
Al Horford (knee) available
Josh Richardson (hamstring) out

Two Way Players
Norvel Pelle
Marial Shayok

Head Coach
Brett Brown

Key Matchups

Daniel Theis vs Joel Embiid
Embiid is averaging 23.3 points, 12.3 rebounds, 3.2 assists and 1.3 blocks per game. He is shooting 48.0% from the field and 33.1% from beyond the arc. It will likely be center by committee for the Celtics to try to slow Embiid down. We may also see Marcus Smart and Semi Ojeleye on him if all else fails.

Gordon Hayward vs Tobias Harris
This is a key matchup, not only because Harris is averaging 19.4 points, 6.8 rebounds, and 3.0 assists and shooting 47.8% from the field and 35.2% from beyond the arc, but because Gordon Hayward has been playing very well and hopefully will be able to make Harris work hard throughout the game. 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, especially if Kemba can’t play.

Honorable Mention
Marcus Smart vs Ben Simmons
Simmons is averaging 16.6 points, 7.7 rebounds, 8.3 assists, and 2.2 steals . He is shooting 58.3% from the field and 40.0% from beyond the arc, which is a little misleading since he has only made 2 out of 5 threes. In spite of his reluctance to shoot 3’s, he is a tough cover and it will fall to Marcus to try 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 committed to playing tough defense this season and so have the Sixers. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 105.5 while the Sixers are right before them at 3rd with a defensive rating of 105.1. It will be very important for the Celtics to play tough team defense and keep the Sixers from finding any rhythm on offense. The Celtics must match or exceed the Sixers effort and intensity on defense.

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. The Sixers out-rebounded the Celtics 155-112 in all 3 of the games so far. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards.

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. They need to move without the ball to get open and they need to move the ball to find the open man and the best shot. Ball movement will be very important to beating the Sixers defense.

Effort and Focus- 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. They need to come out and play hard from the start and not let up until the final buzzer. They need to stay focused on playing Celtics basketball and on playing defense. The Sixers are a tough team and they have a lot of size. It will take a big effort on the part of each Celtic to get a win in this one.

X-Factors
Home Game - The Celtics are at home and need to feed off the energy of the home crowd. The Sixers are dominant at home with a 22-2 record but they have not been as dominant on the road with just 9 wins and 16 losses away from home. The Garden should be loud and give the Celtics that extra push they need to get the win.

Celtic Pride - The Sixers have won all three meetings between these two teams so far this season. The Celtics are likely to see the Sixers at some time in the playoffs. They have to give 100% effort and bring the motivation to get a win to avoid a sweep by one of their chief rivals.

Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game a little bit differently. Some call it tight. Some let the teams play. Some favor the home team while others favor the visiting team. Some refs have an agenda and others call it fair. The Celtics have to adjust to the way they are calling the game and not let the calls that go against them take away their focus on playing the right way. Hopefully the officials will call it fair and let them play.