The Celtics begin the season at home against their long time division rival, the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics are 263-194 all time against the 76ers. They are 153-55 all time at home. They split the series 2-2 last season with each team winning one at home and one on the road. Both teams kept their core players together over the summer and both added some players who can help to fix some of the shortcomings of last year.
The Celtics went through scoring droughts last season and they added Malcolm Brogdon to run the offense on the second unit and to be another scorer. They also signed Danilo Gallinari to help with the scoring, but he will miss the season with a torn ACL. They are hoping that Sam Hauser can take a leap in his development and add more scoring off the bench. They also added Blake Griffin to add some inside scoring and rebounding.
The 76ers were eliminated in the second round last season and they lacked toughness and defense last season. In the offseason, they added PJ Tucker, who will add toughness, defense and leadership, along with 3 point shooting. They also added De’Anthony Melton and Danuel House, Jr, both of whom will add toughness and defense.
Even though the Celtics started a small lineup with Derrick White starting at shooting guard in the preseason, he stated that he wasn’t sure who he would start in this game. It’s possible he may go bigger due to facing PJ Tucker and Joel Embiid on the Sixers. I listed the starting lineup that the Celtics used in the preseason but they may make a change for this game.
Robert Williams III will miss this game as he recovers from an off season procedure to clean out the knee that he had surgery on before the playoffs last season. Danilo Gallinari tore his ACL while playing for the Italian National team and will miss the season. Marcus Smart and Malcolm Brogdon left Friday’s preseason game with minor injuries but are not on the injury list so should be good to go for this one. The 76ers have no injuries listed.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Robert Williams III (knee) out
Head Coach (Interim)
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Michael Foster, Jr
Al Horford vs Joel Embiid
This is the key matchup for this series. Embiid averaged 30.6 points, 11.7 rebounds, 4.2 assists, 1.1 steals and 1.5 blocks per game last season. He shot 49.9% from the field and 37.1% from beyond the arc. Horford needs to contain Embiid as much as possible. Grant Williams may also be able to help defending him. Horford needs to hit his outside shots to be able to draw Embiid away from the paint to open up lanes for his teammates.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
Harden has reportedly lost weight and come into camp in shape. Last season he averaged 22.0 points, 7.7 rebounds and 10.3 assists. He shot 41.0% from the field and 33.0% from beyond the arc. If he really is in shape, he can cause problems for the Celtics. Marcus Smart needs to force Harden to play off the ball and guard him for the pass as well as the shot.
Jayson Tatum vs PJ Tucker
The Celtics need Jayson Tatum to play well and the presence of PJ Tucker will make that difficult for him. Last season, Tucker guarded Tatum for 127 possessions and Tatum scored just 15 points in those possessions. Tucker will crowd Jayson and body him and make it difficult for him to get his shot off. Jayson needs to find a way to score and play well.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense is always the key to winning every game. The Celtics made defense their identity and hopefully will keep that same identity this season. The 76ers should be a good defensive team with the addition of PJ Tucker, Danuel House, and De’Anthony Melton. 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 allowed 17 offensive rebounds per game in the preseason and they have to solve that as they won’t win many games allowing teams to grab that many offensive rebounds. 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 - Last season, one of the Celtics biggest problems was turning the ball over too much. They started the preseason with 23 turnovers and they have to take better care of the ball. They need to focus on making good passes and on not dribbling into a crowd. It’s hard to win a game when you give the opponent 20+ extra possessions by turning the ball over.
Move the Ball - The Celtics play best when the ball keeps moving and doesn’t stick with one player. They had 41 assists on 48 baskets in their first preseason game. They need to try to move the ball like that in every game as that gives them the best chance to get the best shots and to beat the opponent’s defense.
Effort and Focus - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the game the right way and not on complaining about the refs’ calls that they disagree with. If the last preseason game was any indication, the referees are going to clamp down on complaining and the Celtics can’t afford to have players ejected for whining about calls. They also have to play with effort. The team that plays harder and is more aggressive is usually the team that comes out on top. The Celtics had more talent than the Raptors, but the Raptors beat them twice in the preseason because they played harder and were more aggressive.
Coaching - This will be Joe Mazzulla’s first regular season game as a head coach. On the other side is former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is in his third year as the Sixers coach and is one of the top 15 coaches in NBA history. The players have a lot of faith in Mazzulla but I imagine that there will be some growing pains at first as he finds what works and what doesn’t.
Home Game - This is the first home game of the season and hopefully the Celtics will get a boost and extra motivation from the crowd. The Sixers don’t have a lot of young players and so the crowd may not rattle them as much as it would younger players but there is still the distraction of staying in a hotel and playing in front of a hostile crowd.
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. This season it seems as though they will focus on calling the take fouls, fouls on bench decorum, and may be cracking down on player complaints in the game. The Celtics must focus on playing the game and not on the officials or the calls they don’t agree with.