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How should the Celtics guard Joel Embiid? (Staff Roundtable)

The Celtics next opponent includes MVP candidate Joel Embiid (once he’s cleared to play).

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers Photo by Jesse D. Garrabrant/NBAE via Getty Images

How should the Celtics guard Joel Embiid (when he is healthy enough to play)?

Harris Rubenstein

I would do the complete opposite of what Brooklyn did in Round 1. Their weird need to constantly send doubles over to Embiid when he can clearly see over them and make simple reads was pretty infuriating to watch. Stick with the switch everything defense. If you get burned by Embiid in the mid-range or at the rim, so be it. He’s going to get his when healthy, just don’t sacrifice the rest of the floor and let Maxey/Harden run free.

Jack Simone

Historically, the Celtics have defended Joel Embiid well. Obviously, saying that when Embiid’s most recent game against the Celtics was a 50-point Master Class sounds backwards, but it’s true. Sticking a combination of Al Horford, Grant Williams, and even Marcus Smart on him should give Embiid enough trouble where he won’t be too comfortable. The occasional double-team is fine, and could be another surprise element, but all in all, guarding him straight up should be the play. Boston is talented enough to do so.

Ethan Fuller

This is a huge series for Al Horford. His combination of strength and mobility is why he’s been the primary shield against Embiid for multiple seasons. Embiid showed in the Sixers’ last head-to-head win that he’ll figure out double-teams and make the right pass, so that can’t be the approach for an entire series. Marcus Smart and Grant Williams can jump in as irritants, but more importantly, Joe Mazzulla needs to mix up the gameplan multiple times within a contest, or Embiid will make the Celtics pay. And don’t lose Philly’s floor-spacers while fixating on him.

Benjamin Torbert

The Celtics have had a great deal of success against the Embiid-led 76ers, and I would stick with some of their core defensive strategies on him from the past several years. The overall goal is to challenge Embiid’s conditioning, health, and stamina and make him work hard for his production in the first 3 quarters with the idea that he will not be at his best down the stretch of games. Consequently, I would limit double teams (most effective when they come after he puts the ball on the floor) for key moments or possessions as a change of pace. Limiting double teams would mean guarding Embiid straight up the majority of the game. While Horford is the best individual defender of Embiid on the team, I would expect Grant, Rob, Smart, and possibly even some Blake Griffin minutes to show him fresh bodies (and spread out the inevitable fouls). Embiid will likely have some big scoring nights with this strategy, but if it limits the 76ers 3-point shooting and wears him down in crunch time it will be worth it.

Daniel Poarch

Is prayer an option? There’s no particularly ideal way to guard Joel Embiid anymore. The success rates of double-teams against the likely MVP have dropped precipitously, as we just witnessed with an admittedly outmatched Brooklyn Nets roster. With Al Horford and Grant Williams, the Celtics have more viable options against Embiid than the Nets did, and they’ll likely be a bit more judicious in their coverages than Brooklyn’s kitchen sink approach. In all likelihood, though: Embiid is gonna get his. The only things that are likely to slow him down are his lingering knee injury and his customarily heavy workload — both of which could be mitigated somewhat by the extra rest the Philadelphia enjoyed after sweeping their first round opponent while Boston scuffled with theirs. The Celtics will win this series based on how they handle Embiid’s complementary options, not Embiid himself. (edited)

Mike Dynon

There’s good news and bad news. First the bad: Embiid can’t be guarded. He led the league in scoring at 33.1 points per game while shooting 54.8%. He also lives at the free throw line, finishing second with 11.7 attempts per game – and he made 85.7% of them. In four games versus Boston, Embiid averaged 36.8 PPG, including a 52-point outing. And in 66 games he played overall, the Sixers’ net rating was +8.8 with him on the court and -1.5 when he was off.

Now the good news: It doesn’t really matter that he’s unguardable. For the season, Embiid overall averaged 33.7 in games the Sixers won and 31.7 when they lost. In four meetings with the Celtics, Embiid averaged 36.8, but Philly won only once – by just two points on the night he dropped the 52. Embiid will get his points every night, no matter what, so once we accept that, the keys are 1. Keep the rest of the Sixers from going off, and 2. Win the minutes when Embiid is resting.

Bobby Manning

More Al Horford and Grant Williams. Williams guarded Embiid for the majority of the possessions during the latter’s brilliant 52-point performance in the regular season finale between the two teams. Seeing Horford and Williams’ total possessions flip would be encouraging, as would seeing Williams provide any level of consistency at the point of attack after a series where he rarely played. That’s asking a lot, Boston will almost surely need to double at points and rotations to shooters like Tobias Harris and PJ Tucker need to tighten up compared to that last game. Robert Williams III’s ability to stash on a Tucker, and help off that player in the lane should help too. As should the knee injury reportedly hobbling Embiid.

Adam Taylor

By committee. Embiid, when healthy, is a matchup nightmare for almost every team in the NBA, and the Celtics reside on that list. Sure, Al Horford is capable of containing Embiid for stretches, and out of all the bigs in the league, is one of the better choices to guard him. And then you have Grant Williams, whose value becomes evident when he’s tasked with guarding big, burly centers. Of course, we’re also likely to see the Celtics throw some smalls onto Embiid, as they look to limit his catches in the post, and Malcolm Brogdon has proven capable of defending in this manner, and as we all know, Marcus Smart will relish the minutes he’s matched up against the Sixers star. Nevertheless, the Celtics will likely be deploying in a ‘defense by committee’ approach to limiting Embiid, because as the great Jesus Shuttlesworth once said, ‘you can’t stop him, you can only hope to contain him,’ and yes, I know I use that quote a lot.

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