The Celtics visit the Philadelphia 76ers for the 3rd of 4 meetings between the two teams this season. They met in Boston on the first night of the season, October 18, when the Celtics won 126-117. They met a second time in Boston on February 8 and the Celtics won 106-99. They will meet in Philadelphia again on April 4. The Celtics are 266-195 all time overall and they are 89-127 all time in Philly. They tied the series 2-2 last season with each team winning 1 at home and 1 on the road.
The Celtics are still 1st in the East, but their lead over #2 Milwaukee has dwindled to just half a game as the Bucks have won 13 games in a row. They have a 3 game lead over Philadelphia and a 6.5 game lead over Cleveland. They also have a 1 game lead over Denver for the best record in the league. The Celtics are 19-10 on the road and 8-2 in their last 10 games. They are 26-12 against Eastern Conference opponents and 8-1 against Atlantic Division rivals. They are looking for their 3nd straight win.
The 76ers are 3rd in the East, 3 games behind first place Boston and 2.5 games behind 2nd place Milwaukee. They are 3.5 games ahead of 4th place Cleveland and 8 games ahead of 7th place Miami and the play in seeds. They are 24-8 at home and 7-3 in their last 10 games. They are 23-13 against Eastern Conference opponents and 7-5 against the Atlantic Division. They have won their last 5 games.
The Celtics are playing in the 2nd of 3 road games after the All Star break. They won the first game at Indiana and will finish their road trip in New York on Monday. They will then have 3 straight home games vs Cleveland, Brooklyn and New York. The Sixers are playing in the 4th game of a 5 game home stand. They won the first 3 games in this home stand. They will finish the home stand against Miami on Monday and then start a 5 game road trip.
Both teams are mostly healthy. The Celtics have only Danilo Gallinari (knee) on the injury list at this time. Jayson Tatum fell on his sore wrist on Thursday but hasn’t been put on the injury list because of it at this time. For the Heat, only Dewayne Dedmon (hip) is listed as out. Both teams will likely start the same 5 players as they did in their last game.
Probable Celtics Starters
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Dewayne Dedmon (hip) out
Robert Williams III vs Joel Embiid
This is the key matchup for this game. Embiid is averaging 33.0 points, 10.3 rebounds, and 4.1 assists per game. He is shooting 53.0% from the field and 34.2% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season, he averaged 27 points, 11 rebounds, and 3 assists. The Celtics need to contain Embiid as much as possible. He scores both inside and on the perimeter and so the Celtics need to stay with him at all times.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
Harden is averaging 21.6 points, 6.2 rebounds, and 10.7 assists per game. He is shooting 45.6% from the field and 39.7% from beyond the arc. Against the Celtics this season he averaged 30.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 9 assists. He shot 60.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. It goes without saying that the Celtics will need to defend him better in this game.
Malcolm Brogdon vs Tyrese Maxey
Maxey has started 22 games for the Sixers this season but has been coming off the bench for them recently. He is averaging 19.7 points, 2.8 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per game. He is shooting 45.2% from the field and 38.4% from beyond the arc. In the first two games against Boston this season, he averaged with 13.5 points, 3 rebounds and 2 assists. He shot 36.7% from the field and 25% from beyond the arc. He gives the Sixers energy and an offensive force off the bench.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be key to winning every game. The Celtics are 4th in the league with a 111.0 defensive rating while the Sixers are 6th with a defensive rating of 111.6. The Sixers are 16th in the league with 114.3 points per game. The Celtics have to come into this game with the mindset that they need to play tough defense. The Celtics have shown signs of playing the kind of defense that had them at the top of the league last season but they haven’t been consistent and against the Pacers, they seemed to forget how to play defense. They have to get back to making defense their priority for every possession of every game.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. The Celtics are 6th with 45.2 rebounds per game while the Sixers are 28th with 40.6 rebounds per game. It takes effort to get rebounds and the Celtics must go all out in their effort to beat the Sixers on the boards. 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 - The 76ers are 5th in the league with 18.7 points off turnovers per game. The Celtics are 6th in the league, committing only 13.5 turnovers per game but at times, like in the Pacers game, that they have periods when they commit turnover after turnover. 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. If they get sloppy, the 76ers will certainly make them pay.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the team that plays harder and that wants this win more. They have to be aggressive in diving for loose balls, in going to the basket, in getting stops on the defensive end, in closing out the passing lanes, and in going after rebounds. The Celtics must be the more aggressive team from start to finish. If they start out slowly, they may not be able to catch up in this one. They also can’t allow the Sixers to come back if they get out to a lead because the Sixers are good at finishing games. The Celtics need to play with the energy and aggressiveness from the opening tip to the final buzzer.
Coaching - Former Celtics coach Doc Rivers, who is in his third year as the Sixers coach, is one of the top 15 coaches in NBA history. Joe Mazzulla is in his first season as a head coach, having been given the job just a couple weeks before the season. The Celtics came out on top in the first 2 games but Doc is going to want to beat them in this game really badly. He is going to throw everything he has at the Celtics and it will be up to Mazzulla to counter him.
Rivalry - The Celtics and 76ers are definitely a rivalry, in spite of what Embiid says. The Sixers, having lost the last 2 games between them will want play extra hard in this game to try to get even in this game. I’m sure they remember the confetti game and the fact that the Celtics have eliminated them the last 5 times they have met in the playoffs. I have no doubt that the 76ers will play their hardest against the Celtics and the Celtics have to match that effort and play even harder themselves.
Officiating - Officiating is always an x-factor. Every crew calls the game differently. Some call it tight and call every bit of contact while others allow more physical play. Some favor the home team while others call both sides evenly. The Celtics have to adjust to the way the refs are calling the game and not allow the no calls and bad calls to affect their focus on playing the game. They especially need to keep their poise and not complain to the refs on every call.