After finally dispatching the Hawks in 6 games, the Celtics now face the Philadelphia 76ers, who have been sitting at home since April 22, when they finished the sweep of the Brooklyn Nets. The Celtics won 3 of the 4 games between them in the regular season. The Celtics won the first 3 games by 9,7 and 3 points. The 76ers won the final meeting by 2 points against a Celtics team missing Robert Williams and Jalen Brown.
This is the 22nd meeting in the playoffs between these two Atlantic Division Rivals. Philadelphia last beat the Celtics in a playoff game in 1982. This is the 3rd playoff meeting between these two teams in the last 6 years. The Celtics beat the 76ers the Eastern Conference Semifinals in 2018 in a Gentlemen’s Sweep. They then swept the 76ers in the first round in the Bubble in 2020.
These two teams have played 463 regular season games with the Celtics winning 267 and the 76ers winning 196. The Celtics are 154-56 all time in Boston in the regular season. The Celtics and 76ers have played a total of 109 playoff games against each other. Of those, the Celtics have won 62 while the 76ers have won 47. The Celtics are 15-43 all time in playoff games against the 76ers played in Boston.
The biggest question mark in this series is the status of 76ers center Joel Embiid. He missed the final game of the 76ers sweep over the Nets in the first round after spraining his LCL in Game 3 of the first round. At this time he is considered doubtful for this game. However, he was seen taking jumpers after practice on Sunday so his status is truly a game time decision. If he does play, he will likely need to wear a knee brace and his ability to cut and move may be hindered. For the Celtics only Danilo Gallinari is out.
Another question mark in this series is which Celtics will show up? When they are locked in and playing well, they can beat any team in the league. For instance, when they beat the fully healthy Bucks by 41. However, when they come out unfocused and when they take the opponent for granted, they can be beaten by any team in the league. For instance, a loss to the Houston Rockets, or a blown 28 point lead against the Nets, or losing Game 5 to the Hawks at home. Especially if Embiid is out, hopefully the Celtics don’t lose focus and play with less than their highest intensity.
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Joel Embiid (knee) doubtful
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
If Embiid plays, then Embiid vs Al Horford would be the key matchup, but with Embiid out, Harden vs Smart becomes the key matchup. Harden averaged 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, 8.8 assists and 1.5 steals per game against the Nets in the first round. He shot 34.3% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc. He averaged 25.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, 9.0 assists and 1.3 steals per game. He shot 47.5% from the field and 42.4% from beyond the arc in the 3 games against the Celtics this season. It goes without saying that the Celtics need to stay with him in this game, especially on the perimeter.
Derrick White vs Tyrese Maxey
Maxey came off the bench in two games against the Celtics this season and started two of the games. He started the 4 games against the Nets in the first round, averaging 21.8 points, 5.0 rebounds, 1.8 assists and 1.5 assists per game. He shot 47.1% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. In the 4 games against Boston this season, he averaged 10 points, 3 rebounds, and 1.8 assists. He shot 35.4% from the field and 21.4% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to limit him in this game as they did in the regular season.
Jaylen Brown vs Tobias Harris
Harris played very well in the 76ers first round matchup against the Nets, averaging 20.3 points, 8.8 rebounds, and 2.0 assists per game. He shot 56.7% from the field and 57.1% from beyond the arc. In 4 games against the Celtics this season, he averaged 11.5 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and 1.3 steals per game. He shot 43.1% from the field and 36.8% from beyond the arc. Hopefully the Celtics can limit him in the playoffs as they did in the regular season.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs. The Celtics are 10th in the playoffs with a 114.3 defensive rating while the Sixers are 2nd in the playoffs with a defensive rating of 102.5. The Sixers are 13th in the playoffs, scoring 103.8 points per game. The Celtics have to come into this game with the mindset that they need to play tough defense. The Celtics have the players to play lock down defense but they haven’t been consistent and at times seem to forget how to play defense. They have to get back to making defense their priority for every possession of every game because defense is even more important in the playoffs.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. The Celtics are 6th in the playoffs with 45.0 rebounds per game while the Sixers are 2nd with 48.5 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, who are first in the playoffs with 20 second chance points, from getting extra 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.
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.
Stay Focused - 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. The Celtics have to stay focused on taking and making good shots and that includes going to the basket if their 3’s aren’t falling. They have to be focused on making crisp passes and not get sloppy because the 76ers averaged 17.5 points off turnovers in the first round. They have to keep their focus on playing hard and on playing the right way.
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 round but did have a few growing pains along the way. Doc has been criticized for his inability to get his teams out of the second round and he is going to throw everything he has at the Celtics and it will be up to Mazzulla to counter him.
Home Game - The Celtics have been a good home team all season, in spite of dropping Game 5 in the first round at home to the Hawks. The 76ers are a good road team, with a 25-16 record on the road in the regular season. Teams strive to get home court advantage for a reason and the Celtics need to take advantage of having the crowd behind them and being on their home court. Hopefully the 76ers are distracted by the travel, hotel stay, and hostile crowd.
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. In the playoffs so far they have been allowing 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.