The Celtics come into this game with a 3-0 lead in the series and look to be the first team to move on to the second round. The Toronto Raptors are also 3-0 but don’t play until 6:30 pm. Should both the Celtics and Raptors advance, they will play each other in the second round. The Celtics and the Raptors have never met in the playoffs before.
No team has ever won a series after being down 0-3 in a best of 7 series. At this point, the Sixers are hoping just not to be swept. Two years ago, the Celtics also led the 76ers 3 games to none in the Eastern Conference Finals, after the “confetti game” where the Sixers accidentally dropped confetti before losing in overtime in Game 2. The Celtics lost Game 4 in Philadelphia but went on to close out the series in Game 5.
There has never been a sweep in the long history of the Celtics/Syracuse Nationals-Philadelphia 76ers rivalry dating back to 1953. This team would go into the history books if they can pull off a win in this game. The Celtics have won 8 straight first round games going back to Game 7 against the Bucks in 2018. They swept the Indiana Pacers last season in the first round and have won the first 3 games in this series to make it 8 straight first round wins.
The starters may or may not be the same as the ones that started Game 3. I don’t see Brad Stevens changing the Celtics’ starters at this point. Brett Brown switched things up and started Matisse Thybulle in place of Al Horford in Game 2 but went back to the lineup with Al Horford for Game 3. He may try another lineup for this game as the Sixers desperately seek to avoid a sweep.
Ben Simmons (knee) and Glenn Robinson III (oblique) both remain out for the Sixers. Jaylen Brown is playing through a thigh bruise. Romeo Langford is playing through torn ligaments in his wrist. Marcus Smart took a hard hit to his hip in Game 3 and left the game briefly but finished the game. He is tough and I expect him to be ready to play in this game. Javonte Green is questionable with a knee sprain and Gordon Hayward remains out with the sprained ankle.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
Javonte Green (knee) questionable
Gordon Hayward (ankle) out
Probable 76ers Starters
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 and another big game 3 with 30 points, and 13 rebounds. So far, the Celtics have played defense by committee on him and although he is putting up big numbers, it hasn’t been enough for the Sixers to pull out a win. He has gotten off to strong starts in all 3 games but has faded somewhat in crunch time of each game. The Celtics need to try to limit his production but the first 3 games have shown that he can have a big game and still lose.
Jayson Tatum vs Al Horford
With Al Horford back in the starting lineup, he was once again tasked with slowing trying to slow down Jayson Tatum. What Al wasn’t able to do, Scott Foster did. Jayson sat out the entire second quarter with 3 fouls and finished with 15 points. Al has yet to have a big game and is averaging 5.3 points, 6.3 rebounds, 2.0 assists and 1.3 blocks in the playoffs and has yet to make a 3 pointer. For the Celtics to get a sweep, Jayson will need to have a big game on both ends of the court.
Marcus Smart vs Josh Richardson
Richardson has been the most consistent Sixer other than Embiid. He finished Game 2 with 18 points, 3 rebounds, and 3 assists and was the Sixers second leading scorer for the game. He had another good game 3, finishing with 17 points, 3 rebounds and 3 assists. 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. Anyone watching the end of Game 3 should have no doubts how much Marcus Smart means to winning for the Celtics. He should be everywhere and doing a little bit of everything once again in this game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics The Celtics have dropped to 5th in the league but their defensive rating has dropped to 102.8. The Sixers on the other hand have moved from 8th to 14th with a defensive rating of 117.3. It will be very important for the Celtics to play tough team defense and keep the Sixers from finding any rhythm on offense, especially in a close out game. The Celtics held the Sixers to 23.1% from beyond the arc in Game 3 and they 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 in Games 1 and 3 in these playoffs. The Sixers out-rebounded the Celtics 202-154 in their 4 regular season games and 50-43 in Game 1 and 57-45 in Game 3. The Celtics got the advantage on the boards in Game 2 43-38 and that allowed the Celtics to blow the Sixers out in that game. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards.
Effort and Intensity - After Game 3, Joel Embiid said that the Sixers don’t want to be swept and that he would do everything in his power to keep that from happening. We know that the Sixers will come out and play hard and give it their all to avoid a sweep. The Celtics must match that intensity and give even more effort if they hope to counter the Sixers and come out with a win. They can’t afford to slack off and become complacent with their 3 wins so far. They have to play all out from start to finish.
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. Either coach may make more changes to the starting lineups or they may change rotations or we may see new strategies on offense or defense. They also have to find ways to motivate their teams to go all out stay focused. 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. In Game 3, the Celtics bench put up 20 points and 11 rebounds to 9 points and 10 rebounds for the Sixers bench. The Celtics will need another big effort from their bench 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 home court didn’t do much for the Sixers in Game 3 other than the officiating and hopefully it won’t do much for them in this game.
Close Out Game - Close out games are the hardest ones to win. The Sixers are desperate not to get swept and to keep their hopes alive. Embiid said he plans to do everything in his power to get his team this win. I am sure his teammates will all try their best as well. The Celtics must be ready to take their best shot and play even harder themselves. They have to especially give their best effort on defense to demoralize the Sixers if they want to close out this series.
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. Scott Foster did his best in Game 3 to help the Sixers out but the Celtics were able to overcome that and get the win. Hopefully the officials will be fair and let them play in this one to let the teams decide the outcome and not the referees.
Lead referee Kane Fitzgerald has been involved in some bad officiating in the past. As with all refs, though, he can be good or bad depending on the game. He is quick to give technicals. He is the only referee to ever eject LeBron from a game. He gave KG a very quick pair of technicals (from about 30 feet away) and tossed him in the 2nd quarter a Celtics game vs the Knicks. His quickness in giving technicals dates back to his days in the D-league where he was close to the top in calling technical fouls there as well. Players need to behave themselves when he is calling the game.