The Celtics visit the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd of 4 meetings this season. The Celtics won the first meeting 88-87 on December 1 in Boston. The Sixers came back and won the second game 108-103 on December 20, also in Boston. They will face off a 4th, and final, time on February 15 in Philadelphia. Philadelphia won the series 3-0 last season. The Celtics are 263-193 all time against the 76ers and 88-126 when playing in Philadelphia.
The Celtics are 10th in the East and have won their last 3 games. They are 8-13 on the road and 5-5 in their last 10 games. They are 15-11 against Eastern Conference teams and 5-5 against other Atlantic Division teams. The 76ers are 5th in the East and are coming off a loss that broke their 7 game win streak. They are 8-9 at home and 14-11 against Eastern Conference teams. They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and 3-6 against other Atlantic division teams.
The Celtics are playing in their second straight road game after beating the Pacers in Indiana on Wednesday. They will then have a 4 game home stand beginning with Chicago on Saturday. The 76ers are playing in their second straight home game after losing to Charlotte at home on Wednesday and then will head out on the road to face the Heat in Miami on Saturday. This is the first game of a back to back set for both teams. This is also Al Horford’s first game in Philadelphia since his trade in 2020.
Marcus Smart missed Wednesday’s game with a bruised thigh and now is listed as out due to health and safety protocols. He is vaccinated and already had covid last season so hopefully he won’t be out long. Dennis Schroder will likely once again start at the point in his place. Celtics are 1-3 in games without Smart this season, with their win coming against the Pacers on Wednesday.
For the Sixers, Ben Simmons remains out due to being sick of the Sixers. Since he hasn’t played all year, his absence doesn’t change anything for the team. Shake Milton is out with a back injury. Danny Green left Wednesday’s game against the Hornets with a hip injury and he is listed as out for this game.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Dennis Schroder
SF: Jayson Tatum
PF: Al Horford
C: Robert Williams III
Marcus Smart (covid) out
Probable 76ers Starters
PG: Tyrese Maxey
SG: Seth Curry
SF: Matisse Thybulle
PF: Tobias Harris
C: Joel Embiid
Ben Simmons (back) out
Shake Milton (back) out
Danny Green (hip) out
Two Way Players
Charlie Brown, Jr
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
Embiid is playing as well as anyone in the league and has to be in the MVP conversation. He has scored 30 or more points in each of his last 8 games. He is averaging 27.1 points, 10.5 rebounds, 4.3 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.4 blocks per game. He is shooting 48.6% from the field and 33.4% from beyond the arc. In the Celtics loss on December 20, Embiid had 41 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists and 4 blocks. The Celtics need to do their best to make things difficult for him and especially not allow him easy baskets in the paint.
Al Horford vs Tobias Harris
Harris is averaging 18.4 points, 7.6 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is shooting 45.5% from the field and 30.0% from beyond the arc. In the Celtics’ loss on December 20, Harris had 25 points, 7 rebounds and 3 assists. The Celtics definitely need to keep him out of the paint and challenge his outside shots. He is shooting only 30% from three but he was 3-3 in his last game against the Celtics.
Jaylen Brown vs Seth Curry
Curry is averaging 16.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game. He is shooting 51.5% from the field and 41.2% from beyond the arc. He had 26 points, 4 rebounds and 7 assists in the Sixers win over the Celtics on December 20. In that game he shot 71.4% from the field and 100% from beyond the arc. He seems to always play well against the Celtics. Jaylen Brown has also been playing very well and they need another big game from him in this game.
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 climbed to 5th with a defensive rating of 106.9. The Sixers are 17st with a defensive rating of 108.7. The Celtics are 19th, averaging 107.8 points per game while the Sixers are 22nd, averaging 107.3 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 9th in the league with 45.7 rebounds per game. The Sixers are 30th with 42.1 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 have to focus on taking good shots and on not turning the ball over. They have to give maximum effort from the opening tip until the final buzzer.
Play as a Team - Too often 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 showed that they can do that against the Pacers and they have to play team ball on both ends of the court in this game as well.
Road Game - Last season, the Sixers played much better at home than they did on the road. This season, they are playing better on the road with a 15-8 record on the road and an 8-9 record at home. Regardless of that fact, the Sixers have home court advantage in this one and the Celtics need to be extra focused and play harder than the Sixers. 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.
Coaching - Doc Rivers was the Celtics coach for their 2008 championship and left the team when he thought that they were going to be rebuilding. Some people feel that he is one of the better coaches in the league while others who cheer for the teams he has coached would disagree. The Celtics have a first time head coach who is learning the ins and outs of head coaching. Can Ime out coach the much more experienced Doc Rivers?
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.