The series now shifts to the Sixers for a home game of sorts with the Celtics leading the series 2 games to none. The Sixers were dominant at home this season losing only 2 home games in Philadelphia. When they shifted to the bubble, they went 2-2 in the home seeding games. Without the home crowd there live and the comforts of being in their own homes, I don’t know if this shift to Philadelphia home games will make a difference.
Both teams made a starting lineup change before Game 2. The Celtics made the change out of necessity as they needed to replace the injured Gordon Hayward and did so by inserting Marcus Smart at the two and moving Jaylen Brown to small forward. The 76ers made a move to try to match up better with the Celtics starters by moving Matisse Thybulle to the starting lineup and moving Al Horford to the Bench. I have listed the same starters from last game, but wouldn’t be surprised to see one or both coaches change up the starters once again.
The 76ers started out strong in Game #2 and got out to a 14 point lead in the first quarter. The Celtics made a run in the second quarter behind solid 3 point shooting and never looked back. The Celtics ended the game with a 27 point win, leaving the Sixers demoralized and wondering what they can do to get a win in the series. It’s common for a team to have a let down after a dominant game but hopefully the Celtics will be prepared and not let down in this one. They need to keep playing hard while they have the Sixers down and not let them gain any confidence.
When Gordon Hayward went down, many commentators felt that the Celtics would sink due to a lack of production from their bench with Marcus Smart leaving the bench for the starting lineup. However, the reserves pulled together to make up for the loss of Hayward with a collective 41 points and 22 rebounds. The Celtics will need another big effort from the bench once again in order to win this piivotal game.
Romeo Langford played very well in Game 2 in spite of playing with torn ligaments in his wrist and I expect he will be ready to play in this game again. Jaylen Brown is playing with a thigh bruise from a knee in the thigh from Joel Embiid in Game 1. I expect that he will also be ready to play in this one. Gordon Hayward remains out with the ankle sprain. Ben Simmons (knee) and Glenn Robinson (oblique) both remain out for the Sixers.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Romeo Langford (wrist) probable
Jaylen Brown (thigh) probable
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Ben Simmons (knee) out
Glenn Robinson III (oblique) out
Daniel Theis vs Joel Embiid
Embiid had a big game 2 with 34 points and 10 rebounds. So far, the Celtics have played defense by committee on him and have tried to keep him from receiving the ball in the paint.
He has gotten off to strong starts in the first two games but has faded somewhat by the end of the game. Embiid is averaging 23.0 points, 11.6 rebounds, 3.0 assists and 1.8 blocks per game. The Celtics need to try to limit his production but the first two games have shown that he can have a big game and still lose the game.
Jayson Tatum vs Tobias Harris
With Al Horford going to the bench, Tobias Harris moved up to the power forward spot. He finished Game 2 with 13 points and 10 rebounds. He hasn’t been much of a factor so far and he should be motivated to have a big game. Matisse Thybulle was supposed to be the defensive stopper to limit Tatum but that didn’t quite work out. Tatum put up career high in points of 32 points in Game 1 and then topped that with 33 points in Game 2. Celtics will be looking for another strong game from Tatum. Harris will need to show up for the Sixers if they hope to have a chance to win a game in this series.
Marcus Smart vs Josh Richardson
Richardson finished Game 2 with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists and was the Sixers second leading scorer for the game. He also was tasked with trying to help to slow down Jaylen and Jayson. He has the ability to hit big shots and is a good defender. I’m assuming that Marcus will once again get the start but that could change.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. 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 try to slow down Embiid, especially in the paint. The Celtics held the Sixers to 23.8% from beyond the arc and need to play tough perimeter defense in this game also. The Celtics must match or exceed the Sixers effort and intensity on defense.
Rebound - The Sixers have size and Have dominated the Celtics on the boards in their 4 regular season games and also the first playoff game. The Sixers out-rebounded the Celtics 202-154 in their 4 regular season games and 50-43 in Game 1. The Celtics got the advantage on the boards in Game 2 43-38 and that was big for the Celtics. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards once again.
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 to take a lead at one point before the Celtics closed them out. In Game 2, we also saw another familiar pattern where the Celtics came out slow and let the Sixers build a 14 point lead in the first quarter but they came back strong in the second quarter and went on to blow them out. The Celtics need to come out strong and play hard every minute until the final buzzer.
Coaching - The playoffs are like a chess game with each coach making moves to counter the other and then having to make moves to match the ones made by the other coach. They make make more changes to the starting lineups or they may change rotations or we may see new strategies on offense or defense. So far, Brad Stevens has out-coached Brett Brown and he will need to continue to do so if the Celtics want to win this series.
Bench Play - The Celtics bench has not been one of their strong points this season. That is, not until Game 2 of this series. In Game 1, the Celtics got just 8 points from their bench while the Sixers got 23 from their reserves. In Game 2, the Sixers got 20 points off their bench, including 4 from Al Horford. With Gordon Hayward out and Marcus Smart moving to the starting lineup, the Celtics needed to get production from their bench and they did. The Celtics reserves scored 41 points and pulled down 22 rebounds. The Celtics will need that type of effort from their bench once again in order to get a win in this game.
Neutral Site - Even though this is considered a home game for the Sixers, it is still mostly a neutral site. Yes, the Sixers get 3 panels of virtual fans to only one panel of virtual fans for the Celtics. The Sixers will also get the louder piped in cheers, but it’s not like a real home court advantage. 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. The Celtics haven’t proved that they play much better in this neutral setting, going 2-2 in the seeding home games and it remains to be seen if the home designation here gives them any type of advantage.
Consistency - The Celtics got good production from their bench in game 2. Jayson Tatum has been on fire and both Jaylen and Kemba have been playing well. The Sixers have looked like the Celtics’ defense has them shaken and they have struggled on both ends of the court. The Celtics need to be consistent with their effort and production. They can’t slack off now. Hopefully the Sixers will be consistently bad also.
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 haven’t been bad in the first 2 games and hopefully they will call it fair and let them play in this game also.
With Scott Foster as the lead ref, it’s hard to tell what we will get in this one. At times he calls games one sided and is a tyrant with the whistle, calling every little thing and at other times he calls it evenly and lets them play. Tim Donaghy described Foster as a company man who will do what is asked of him to keep his seniority among refs.
Foster was part of the 2010 Finals game 7 officiating crew that called the final quarter completely different than the first 3 quarters and very one sided for the Lakers with 21 free throws for the Lakers and 6 for the Celtics in the final 12 minutes. He was voted the worst referee in the league by the players and coaches in an LA Times article. This definitely makes the officiating an x-factor.