The Celtics host the Philadelphia 76ers for the second of four regular season games this season. The Celtics won the first game 88-87 in Boston on December 1. Jayson Tatum had 26 points and 16 rebounds and Timelord blocked the final shot to preserve the win. They will face off twice more 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 263-193 and they lead the series in Boston 153-54 all time.
Although both teams have identical 15-15 records, the Celtics are 8th in the East while the 76ers are 9th due to the Celtics leading the series 1-0 and having a better record in the division. The Celtics are 8-5 at home and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 10-8 against other Eastern Conference teams and 4-3 against other Atlantic Division teams. The Sixers are 9-8 on the road and they are 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 9-9 against other Eastern Conference teams and they are 0-6 and winless so far against other Atlantic Division teams.
The 76ers were supposed to be playing in the second of back to back games but their game against the Pelicans was postponed due to the Sixers not having enough players available to play. Instead, if they play this game, they come into it nice and rested. They are expecting to get some of the players who are questionable due to injuries back for this game. However, there is a chance that if they don’t have enough players, this game may also be postponed.
Both teams have extensive injury lists. For the Celtics, 7 players are out due to health and safety protocols including Jabari Parker, Grant Williams, Al Horford, Juancho Hernangomez, Sam Hauser, Josh Richardson, and Brodric Thomas. In addition, Jayson Tatum is questionable with an ankle sprain, Romeo Langford is questionable with a neck injury that he hurt in the Warriors game, and Dennis Schroder is questionable with a non-covid illness. All three are listed as a game time decision. I’m guessing that Aaron Nesmith will start again unless Romeo Langford or Dennis Schroder return and, if they do, one of those two may start. Justin Jackson and CJ Miles have been signed via hardship exemption.
The 76ers have just 3 players out due to covid. Andre Drummond, Shake Milton, and Georges Niang are all out due to being in the health and safety protocols. They have three starters who are listed as questionable but who will likely play including Tyrese Maxey (quad), Danny Green (hip) and Joel Embiid (ankle) All 3 are listed as a game time decision. Furkan Korkmaz is questionable with a non-covid illness and Jaden Springer is questionable with a concussion and is also listed as a game time decision. If the 76ers starters are out, I have no idea who would play in their place.
Probable Celtics Starters
Romeo Langford (neck) questionable
Dennis Schroder (illness) questionable
Jayson Tatum (ankle) questionable
Jabari Parker (covid) out
Grant Williams (covid) out
Al Horford (covid) out
Juancho Hernangomez (covid) out
Sam Hauser (covid) out
Josh Richardson (covid) out
Brodric Thomas (covid) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Joel Embiid (ankle) questionable
Tyrese Maxey (quad) questionable
Danny Green (hip) questionable
Furkan Korkmaz (illness) questionable
Jaden Springer (concussion) out
Andre Drummond (covid) out
Shake Milton (covid) out
Georges Niang (covid) out
Ben Simmons (personal) out
Two Way Players
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
Assuming that Embiid’s ankle is ok to play in this game, it will be key to slow him down as he is the team’s best player. He is averaging 24.3 points, 10.9 rebounds, and 4.3 assists per game. He is shooting 44.5% from the field and 33.1% from beyond the arc. The Celtics will really miss Al Horford and Grant Williams with their ability to match up with Embiid.
Jaylen Brown vs Seth Curry
Curry always seems to play well against the Celtics. He is averaging 16.2 points, 3.0 rebounds and 3.0 assists per game. He is shooting 51.6% from the field and 39% from beyond the arc. He was the high scorer for the 76ers in the first meeting between these two teams with 17 points and 6 assists. If the Celtics leave him open, there’s a good chance he is going to score.
Jayson Tatum vs Tobias Harris
Harris is averaging 18.8 points, 7.7 rebounds, and 3.4 assists. He is shooting 45.9% from the field and just 29.9% from beyond the arc. Jayson Tatum had a big game the last time these two teams met with 26 points and 16 rebounds. The Celtics need Tatum to play well and be consistent for them to win consistently.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics have committed to playing tough defense this season but haven’t done so consistently. The Celtics have been as high as 5th in the league in defense but are currently 12th with a defensive rating of 107.5. The Sixers are 21st with a defensive rating of 109.9. The Celtics are 8th, averaging 108.5 points per game while the Sixers are 24th, averaging 105.6 points per game. 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 8th in the league with 45.7 rebounds per game. The Sixers are 30th with 41.8 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.
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 Celtics will likely be missing quite a few more players than the Sixers and so the players who are healthy need to double their effort to give the Celtics a chance to win.
Play as a Team - Too often when the Celtics are short handed, players take it upon themselves to try to do too much and we end up with hero ball and a lot of iso’s. That type of basketball is rarely successful. The Celtics, especially Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, need to play team basketball and move the ball and trust their teammates. They have to play team ball on both ends of the court.
Missing Players - Both teams will be short handed in this game but the Celtics will likely be way more short handed than the 76ers. The Sixers have just 3 players out as of this time with 5 more questionable. The Celtics, on the other hand, have 6 players out and another 4 questionable. Sometimes, no matter how hard they play, you just can’t overcome the odds against you. Hopefully the Celtics will have enough will to overcome missing so many players.
Celtic Pride vs Revenge - 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. The 76ers will be looking to avenge that loss from earlier in the season. The Celtics will have to play extra hard in order to get a win.
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.