This is the first preseason game for both of these teams. They last met in the 2nd round of the Eastern Conference playoffs where the Celtics beat the 76ers 4 games to 3. This is a long time division rivalry, although Joel Embiid once famously said that this is not a rivalry because “They always kick our a**.”
The Celtics are playing in the first of back to back games. They will travel to New York to take on the Knicks in Madison Square Garden on Monday night. They are also playing in the first of 3 games in 4 nights as they will once again face the 76ers on Wednesday, this time in Philadelphia. The 76ers are off on Monday and Tuesday and their next game will be at home against the Celtics on Wednesday.
The Celtics have undergone quite a bit of change over the offseason. Gone is the heart and soul of the team, Marcus Smart, along with other key players including Robert Williams, Malcolm Brogdon, Grant Williams, Mike Muscala, and Danilo Gallinari. But the Celtics have added some key players including Kristaps Porzingis, Jrue Holiday and Svi Mykhailiuk. There is some continuity with the Joe Mazzulla returning as head coach for a second season. They have also added top assistants Sam Cassell and Charles Lee to the coaching staff.
The 76ers haven’t had as much turnover in their roster but they are far from having continuity. Doc Rivers is gone and Nick Nurse is now the head coach and so the team is instituting a new system. Also, they have faced drama throughout the off season with James Harden demanding a trade but not getting one. Harden didn’t attend media day or the first day of training camp but he did report and went through a full practice on Saturday. They did add Kelly Oubre, Jr and Patrick Beverley, who may give them a little boost.
Preseason games are tough to predict as coaches love to experiment and often rest regular starters while playing guys who are on the cusp to figure out who goes and who stays. Joe Mazzulla has said that he plans to play his starters light minutes in the preseason so we will likely see a lot of the reserves in this game. One of the big questions is whether Derrick White or Al Horford will start. I’m guessing Derrick, but I may be wrong.
James Harden didn’t fully participate most of training camp but he did have a full practice on Saturday so he may or may not get the start or even play. No one knows what will happen with him. Will he begin the season on the team, or will he get his wish and be traded before the season starts. Will he play in the preseason or will he sit out? I’m guessing that he plays but it’s possible that he sits out. Montrezl Harrell is out with a knee injury.
Probable Celtics Starters
PG: Jrue Holiday
SG: Derrick White
SF: Jaylen Brown
PF: Jayson Tatum
C: Kristaps Porzingis
JD Davison (2 Way)
Neemias Queta (2 Way)
Jay Scrubb (2 Way)
Probable 76ers Starters
PG: Patrick Beverley
SG: Tyrese Maxey
SF: Tobias Harris
PF: PJ Tucker
C: Paul Reed
Kelly Oubre, Jr
Ricky Council IV (2 Way)
Azuolas Tubelis (2 Way)
Terquavion Smith (2 Way)
Danuel House, Jr
David Duke, Jr
Montrezl Harrell (Knee) out
De’Anthony Melton (rest) out
Joel Embiid (rest) out
Furkan Korkmaz (rest) out
James Harden (personal) out
Jrue Holiday vs Patrick Beverley
With the news that Harden will sit out this game, I’m guessing that Patrick Beverley will start in his place. Celtics fans will be eagerly watching Jrue Holiday’s first game as a Celtic. This will be a matchup between Jrue and another tough defensive minded guard in Patrick Beverley. But, we probably won’t see a lot of Jrue, even if he starts. Celtics fans will also be watching to see Payton Pritchard, who Sam Hauser has said “is out for blood.”
Kristaps Porzingis vs Paul Reed
Celtics fans will also be anxious to see Kristaps Porzingis for the first time in a Celtics uniform. With news that the reigning MVP will be sitting out, I am guessing that Paul Reed will start at center. Again, we will not see Porzingis for big minutes but we should enjoy whatever minutes he gives us.
Jayson Tatum vs PJ Tucker
Tatum has put on quite a bit of muscle over the offseason and has worked with Paul Pierce to improve his game. He comes into the season with a chip on his shoulder and the intention of making the All Defensive team. Even though he likely won’t play many minutes, it will be good to see if his game matches up with his talk and intentions.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Whether it is the first game of preseason, or the final game of the NBA Finals, defense is always the key to winning. Both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown have declared that they want to make the All Defensive team. Jrue Holiday brings a defensive mindset to the game. Joe Mazzulla has said that he will emphasize defense more often in practices this season. Let’s hope the Celtics follow through with this and reclaim their defensive mindset this season.
Rebound - The Celtics can’t score if they don’t have the ball, and the best way to get the ball is the grab rebounds. They have lost some of their rebounding with Timelord playing in Portland but at 7’3”, Kristaps Porzingis should be able to grab rebounds. The Celtics also need to rebound as a team with every Celtic battling on the boards. It will take a team effort to beat the 76ers on the boards.
Reserve Play - With the starters likely to be playing light minutes, the Celtics will need to lean heavily on their reserves. How will the new players like Banton, Brissett, Walsh, Mykhailiuk and Gabriel do in their first game as Celtics? How will returning players like Luke Kornet, Sam Hauser, and Payton Pritchard do as they return to the lineup as key reserves with something to prove.
Chemistry - Chemistry and continuity are both important to teams trying to win a championship. The Celtics have several new players to work into the team and to build chemistry with. They have the continuity of the same head coach and key players returning. The 76ers have a new coach and a new system to get acclimated to. They have the uncertainty of James Harden’s situation to overcome, but they also have many of the same key players returning.
It’s the preseason and most of the time coaches don’t care if they win or lose but are looking for improvement in players, which rotations work, which players on the cusp will stick with the team and keeping their key players healthy. In the end, hopefully both teams stay healthy and we see some good things from starters and reserves alike.