The Celtics travel to Philadelphia to take on the 76ers. This is the first of 2 meetings between these two division rivals in the first half of the season. They will play again on Friday, also in Philadelphia. The Sixers won the series last season 3-1 but then the Celtics swept them in the first round of the playoffs so there is plenty of extra motivation for both teams to want to win this game.
The Celtics are first in the East, in spite of their embarrassing loss to the Knicks in their last game. The 76ers are 3rd in the East but were 7-2 before injuries and covid somewhat derailed their season. They should be at close to full strength for this game and so the Celtics should not underestimate them.
Both teams are coming off a loss and will be looking to get back on track and avoid a second straight loss. In spite of having no fans in the building, the Sixers are tough at home with a 7-1 record but are just 2-4 on the road. The Celtics are 4-2 at home as well as 4-2 on the road.
The Celtics will likely get Robert Williams back from covid quarantine for this game. Tacko Fall should also return from the sprained ankle. Both are probable and will be a game time decision. Jayson Tatum and Carsen Edwards are both still out due to covid. Romeo Langford is still out as he rehabs his wrist from off season surgery.
For the Sixers, Seth Curry has been out for the past 2 weeks after testing positive for covid. He is expected to return for this game. Joel Embiid missed their last game with right knee soreness and is expected to play in this one. Vincent Poirier (covid) and Mike Scott (knee) are both out.
I’m not sure who will be starting for either team. Brad Stevens has started Grant Williams at the 4 next to Tristan Thompson in the last 2 games with Daniel Theis coming off the bench. I listed it that way for this game but I’m not sure if he will stick with that lineup or not.
Seth Curry was starting at shooting guard before he went on the injured list. I’m not sure if he will return there after two weeks off with covid or if they will work him back in on the bench and start Maxey as they have in his absence. Otherwise, I expect the other 4 spots to be Simmons, Green, Harris and Embiid.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Kemba Walker
SG: Marcus Smart
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Grant Williams
C: Tristan Thompson
Tacko Fall (ankle) probable
Robert Williams (covid) probable
Romeo Langford (wrist) out
Jayson Tatum (covid) out
Carsen Edwards (covid) out
Probable 76ers Starters
PG: Ben Simmons
SG: Tyrese Maxey
SF: Danny Green
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Seth Curry (covid) probable
Joel Embiid (knee) probable
Mike Scott (knee) out
Vincent Poirier (covid) out
Tristan Thompson vs Joel Embiid
Embiid is always a tough matchup. He is averaging 25.0 points, 11.5 rebounds, 2.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 53.6% from the field and 39.3% from beyond the arc. Whoever guards him must stay with him both in the paint and on the perimeter.
Grant Williams vs Tobias Harris
Harris is averaging 19.1 points, 7.1 rebounds, 2.9 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.0 blocks per game. I’m not sure if Grant will be starting here or not but whoever starts will need to stay with Harris wherever he goes on the court because he is shooting 50% from the field and 43% from beyond the arc.
Kemba Walker vs Ben Simmons
Simmons is averaging 12.3 points, 9.3 rebounds, 8.0 assists, 1.5 steals and 1.0 blocks. He is shooting 50% from the field but just 20% from beyond the arc. In spite of his unwillingness to shoot 3’s, he is very dangerous and can put up points in a hurry and is always a threat to drive to the hoop.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics are 14th in the league with a defensive rating of 109.0 while the Sixers are 3rd with a defensive rating of 105.7. 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 - The Sixers are 6th in the league with 47.2 rebounds per game. The Celtics are 12th with 45.0 rebounds per game. The Celtics 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. If the Celtics want to win this one, it is crucial that they go all out to crash the boards.
Take Care of the Ball - The Celtics are averaging 15.5 turnovers per game (23rd). They had 11 turnovers, mostly unforced, in the first half vs the Knicks and it helped the Knicks to hand the Celtics their lowest scoring half of the season. The Celtics must move the ball and find the open man but they also must make careful passes and not turn the ball over. The Sixers are 2nd in the league with 16.3 fast break points per game. If the Celtics get careless with the ball, the Sixers will make them pay.
Focus - The Celtics must come into the game focused and stay focused on playing the right way throughout the game. Against the Knicks they missed open shots, shooting 30% from the field and 15% from beyond the arc. It wasn’t the Knicks’ defense but their lack of focus because they also shot just 62% from the line. They must have better focus in this game.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics need to be the more aggressive team. They have to be more aggressive in going after loose balls, in grabbing rebounds, in defending, and in going to the basket. They have to be the team that wants it more. Against the Magic, the Celtics were still hustling and being aggressive, even up almost 30. Against the Knicks, the Celtics looked like they were running in mud and allowed the Knicks to out-play, out-hustle, and out-rebound them the entire game.
Bench Play - The Celtics have gotten a boost off the bench from several players, even when playing short handed. On Friday against the Magic, the Celtics got an impressive 66 points from the bench. Against the Knicks, they got just 25 points from the bench. The Sixers have been getting big games off the bench from Shake Milton and Dwight Howard and now, they add Seth Curry back into the mix. The Celtics reserves must step up and contribute.
Road Game - In spite of having no fans, the Sixers have continued to play much better at home than they do on the road. They have lost just one game there so far this season. There are inconveniences on the road, especially during this pandemic, that make playing on the road tougher for players. The Celtics need to work through those things and not allow them to affect their play.
Next Man Up - Even though the Celtics are slowly getting players back from injury and quarantine, they are still missing Jayson Tatum, and that is a big hole to fill. Players must step up and help to make up for Tatum’s 27 points and 7 rebounds per game along with the intangibles he brings to the game. Everyone needs to give a little extra if they want to get the win.
Officiating - Officiating always has the potential to be 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. Some officials are just plain bad. 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.