The Celtics and 76ers meet for Game 2 with the Celtics looking to gain a 2-0 lead while the 76ers hope to tie up the series. The Celtics come into game 2 with a bit of momentum after winning Game 1, but they can’t let up after that win. Remember back to their Game 1 win last season over the Bucks and then the 4 consecutive losses after that win. They can’t let that happen again and must take control of this series with a strong effort in this game.
It won’t be easy, however. Gordon Hayward left the game on Monday with a sprained ankle and will be out for 4 weeks. Replacing Hayward won’t be easy as he has been a big part of their attack this season on both ends of the court. He did a little of everything to help the Celtics win Game 1 with 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists and 4 steals in 34 minutes.
The Celtics are 14-6 this season without Hayward. In those games, Marcus Smart, who started 40 of the 60 games he played in, replaced Hayward in the starting lineup. Brad Stevens could go do that in this case, but it would give the Sixers starters an even bigger size advantage. He could also preserve his rotation with Marcus playing with the second unit and start Semi, Grant, Javonte, or Romeo at small forward.
Another possibility would be to move Jayson Tatum to small forward and start Semi, Grant, Javonte, or Robert at the power forward spot. That would give the Celtics more size and keep the rotation in tact, but would put another limited scorer on the court with the starters. The Sixers are already daring Daniel Theis to shoot from outside and doubling the Celtics scorers and this would give them two players to slack off of on defense.
My guess is that he will start Marcus Smart since that is what he did earlier in the season, but that wasn’t the playoffs. The Celtics were 6-4 when Smart starts for Hayward. Brett Brown has said that depending on who the Celtics start, he may change his starting lineup as well. My guess is that if Marcus Smart starts, Brown will start Matisse Thybulle in place of Al Horford. So, the starting lineups may be completely wrong by the time the game starts.
Ben Simmons (knee) and Glenn Robinson III (oblique) both remain out for the Sixers and there are no new injuries. For the Celtics, Romeo Langford is day to day with torn ligaments in his wrist but he was available to play in Game 1 so I would assume that he will be available to play in this game. He played his only college season with a torn ligament in the thumb of his shooting hand so he may be able to play through this, although how effective he is remains to be seen.
Jaylen Brown took a knee to the thigh from Joel Embiid and left Monday’s game but he was able to return and play well down the stretch in Monday’s victory. He is listed as probable for this game. Gordon Hayward will be out for this game and likely until the Eastern Conference Finals, if the Celtics make it that far and if his wife hasn’t gone into labor by then.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) probable
Jaylen Brown (thigh) probable
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Ben Simmons (knee) out
Glenn Robinson III (oblique) out
Daniel Theis vs Joel Embiid
Embiid is averaging 23.0 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game. He is shooting 47.7% from the field and 33.1% from beyond the arc. Embiid started out strong in Game 1 but was not a factor down the stretch. He had 26 points, 16 rebounds, and 1 assist in Game 1 but he also had 5 turnovers. The Celtics seemed to be able to wear him out and keep him from taking over Game 1 and hopefully they can do the same in this game.
Jayson Tatum vs Al Horford
Al had mixed results in Game 1. He finished with 6 points, 7 rebounds and 6 assists. He disappeared at times from the Sixers attack and most of the job of guarding Tatum went to Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle, although no one was very successful as he finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds. I predict that Horford will come into this game looking to make more of a difference for the Sixers.
Jaylen Brown vs Tobias Harris
I’m not really sure who will start at small forward opposite Harris but I’m assuming it will be Jaylen Brown with Marcus Smart starting at shooting guard but Smart. It could be just about anyone on the team, however including Marcus Smart being inserted at small forward. Harris finished game 1 with 15 points, 8 rebounds and 8 assists. Like Hayward, he did a little bit of everything for his team. He shot 40% from the field and missed all 3 three pointers that he took. Like Horford, he will be looking to play better in this game and so whoever starts at the three will need to play tough defense on him.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. Both teams play tough defense, although one of the key defenders for the Sixers, Ben Simmons, will miss the playoffs and another solid defender for the Celtics, Gordon Hayward will be out as well. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a defensive rating of 106.5 while the Sixers are not far behind at 8th with a defensive rating of 108.4. It will be very important for the Celtics to play tough team defense and keep the Sixers from finding any rhythm on offense. They especially need to keep Embiid from taking over the game. 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. The Sixers had 16 second chance points to just 9 for the Celtics in Game 1 and the Celtics need to work harder on the boards to keep them from getting 2nd chance points in this game. The Sixers out-rebounded the Celtics 202-154 in their 4 regular season games and 50-43 in Game 1. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards.
Move the Ball - Ball movement is very important to the Celtics success. When they pass the ball and move without the ball they get good shots and good things happen. When they over dribble and play hero ball, it usually doesn’t end well. 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 beat the Sixers defense.
Play Hard All 48 Minutes - In Game 1, we saw a familiar pattern that we have seen many times with this Celtics team. They built a double figure lead and then let up on effort and let the Sixers back into the game. They went scoreless for 5 minutes in the 3rd quarter to allow the Sixers to go on a 15-0 run. They recovered and came back in the 4th quarter to get the win, but they can’t keep letting opponents get a lead or come back from a big deficit. The Celtics have to keep their foot on the gas for all 48 minutes.
Be Aggressive - The Sixers were very physical in Game 1 and went hard at the Celtics. The Celtics need to match their physical play and be aggressive on both ends of the court. They need to go hard to the basket and not depend on outside shots. They need be aggressive in going after loose balls and crashing the boards and in defending at every position. They have to be the team that plays harder and that wants the game more. They can’t let the Sixers out-play them.
Bench Play - The Celtics has been a weak point for the Celtics this season. In Game 1, the Celtics got just 8 points from their bench and with one of the reserves going to the starting lineup, someone on the bench must step up. The Sixers had 23 bench points with 18 of those coming from Alec Burks. The Celtics need someone on the bench to step up their effort and production for the Celtics to continue winning.
Neutral Site - The Sixers were great at home this season but not so much on the road. They were 30-4 at home and just 12-26 on the road. The Celtics were 26-10 at home and 22-14 on the road and so were more consistent between home and road. This was a question for Game 1 and will still be a question for this game.
Injuries - With Gordon Hayward out, the Celtics will need someone else to step up and fill in the void that he leaves. The same goes for the Sixers who are missing Ben Simmons. They also need someone to step up and help to fill that void. Which team will be able to make up for the absence of their star? It’s next man up but who will that man be?
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 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. The officials weren’t bad in the first game and hopefully they will call it fair and let them play in this game also.