The Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers for the first of four regular season games this season. They will play again in Boston later this month on December 20. They will face off twice in Philadelphia on January 14 and again on February 15. The Sixers swept the series 3-0 last season. The Celtics lead the all time series 262-193 and they lead the series in Boston 152-54 all time.
Although both teams have identical 11-10 records, the Celtics are 10th in the East while the 76ers are 8th due to various tie breakers. The Celtics are 5-4 at home and 6-4 in their last 10 games. They are 7-8 against other Eastern Conference teams and 2-3 against other Atlantic Division teams. The Celtics have won 4 of their last 6 games.
The Sixers are 6-5 on the road and they are 3-7 in their last 10 games. They are 6-6 against other Eastern Conference teams and they are 0-4 and winless so far against other Atlantic Division teams. Both teams are coming off a win and are looking for their second straight win. The Celtics beat the Raptors on the road on Sunday while the Sixers beat the Magic at home on Monday.
The Celtics are playing this one home game between a 2 game road trip to San Antonio and then Toronto and a 5 game Western road trip that will begin with back to back games in Utah and then Portland on Friday and Saturday. The 76ers are playing in the first of a 4 game road trip that will take them through Atlanta and then 2 games in Charlotte.
The Celtics got some good news on the injury front with a clear injury report on Tuesday. Dennis Schroder (ankle) and Robert Williams (illness) will return after missing 1 and 2 games respectively. Jaylen Brown, who has been questionable for the past 3 games is once again questionable. He has played every game so far when he was listed as questionable so I’m expecting him to play in this one, although on a possible minutes restriction. For the Sixers, only Ben Simmons (personal) is listed as out. He has yet to suit up for the Sixers this season.
I’m expecting Robert Williams to move back into the starting lineup at center where he started before he missed the two games with illness. However, Grant Williams has been playing very well on both ends of the court and Coach Udoka may decide to keep him in the starting lineup and bring either Al Horford or Robert Williams off the bench. One of the reasons Philly wanted to sign Horford was because he had been so effective in guarding Embiid so we may see that match up in this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
Jaylen Brown (injury management) questionable
Probable 76ers Starters
Ben Simmons (personal) out
Two Way Players
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
Embiid is the focal point of the Sixers offense. He is playing in the 3rd game back since missing 9 games with Covid. In his first game back against the Timberwolves, he scored 42 points, so it’s safe to say that he is very dangerous and the Celtics need to find a way to slow him down. He is averaging 23.5 points, 10.0 rebounds, 3.9 assists and 1.5 blocks per game. He is shooting 44.7% from the field and 40.5% from beyond the arc. He is also attempting almost 10 free throws per game so the Celtics need to try to defend him without putting him on the line.
Al Horford vs Tobias Harris
Harris is averaging 20.3 points, 8.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He is shooting 49.0% from the field and 32.7% from beyond the arc. Harris has been playing very well and is a threat to get into the paint and to the basket. He also is one of their best rebounders so Celtics will need to box him out to keep him off the boards.
Marcus Smart vs Tyrese Maxey
Maxey has been doing a very good job starting in place of Ben Simmons. He is averaging 18.5 points, 3.6 rebounds, and 4.9 assists. He is shooting 49.1% from the field and 38.5% from beyond the arc. Over his last 7 games he has averaged 25 points and 4 assists and is shooting 50% from the field and 40% on 3-pointers over that stretch.
Keys to the
Game Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics have committed to playing tough defense this season. The Celtics have moved up to 5th in the league with a defensive rating of 104.9 while the Sixers are 20th with a defensive rating of 108.9. The Sixers are 8th with an offensive rating of 110.4 while the Celtics are 22nd with an offensive rating of 106.0. 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 - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. It takes effort to get rebounds and the Celtics must go all out in their effort to beat the Sixers to rebounds. The Celtics are 3rd in the league with 47.3 rebounds per game. The Sixers are 30th with 42.5 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.
Move the Ball Carefully - The Celtics play best when they move the ball in order to find the open man and the best shot. Sometimes they get careless when they handle and pass the ball and they turn the ball over way too much. The Celtics average 14 turnovers per game while the Sixers average just 12.6 turnovers per game. The Celtics have to focus on making crisp passes and they have to focus on taking care of the ball and not get careless with it.
Effort and Focus- The Celtics need to get 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 and have a strong offense. It will take a big effort on the part of each Celtic to get a win in this one.
Brown and Tatum - The Celtics need for both Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum to find their shot and get back to scoring efficiently. If they struggle to score again in this game, they need to find their teammates and become playmakers instead of continuing to shoot and miss. They also need to take the ball to the basket instead of chucking up shots from outside if they aren’t hitting them.
Home Game - The Celtics are at home and need to feed off the energy of the home crowd. They need to take advantage of home court while they can before heading out on the road for the next 5 games. The Garden should be loud and give the Celtics that extra push they need to get the win.
Celtic Pride - The Sixers won all three meetings between these two teams last season. These two teams are division rivals and any games between them are for pride and bragging rights as much as for the win or loss. The Sixers are also coached by former Celtics coach Doc Rivers who abandoned the Celtics when he thought they would be rebuilding. They have to give 100% effort and bring the motivation to get a win to avoid a loss to 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 from playing the right way. Hopefully the officials will call it fair and let them play.