After being shocked by the Philadelphia 76ers without their best player in Game 1, the Celtics look to avoid going down in an 0-2 hole as they host the 76ers for Game 2. The Celtics have played down to their competition this entire season, especially when they are lacking their best player. They lost to the Thunder who were missing Shai Gilgeous Alexander. They lost to the Suns, who were missing Devin Booker. And, most recently, they lost to the Hawks in the first round when they were missing Dejounte Murray.
The Celtics seem to work hard at making things more difficult for themselves. Every extra game they play along the way will wear them out and make games later in the playoffs more difficult. All is not lost, however. Teams that win Game 1 on the road go on to win the series 52.6% of the time (72-65), which indicates that the home team wakes up and goes on to win the series just under half the time. However, if the Celtics don’t come to play in Game 2, the odds go way up with the team winning the first 2 games on the road winning the series 84% of the time.
This is the 22nd meeting in the playoffs between these two Atlantic Division Rivals with the Celtics holding a 14-7 edge. Philadelphia last beat the Celtics in a playoff series 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 43-15 all time in playoff games against the 76ers played in Boston.
The health of key players is once again the biggest question mark in this series. Joel Embiid missed Game 1 due to an LCL sprain suffered in Game 3 of Round 1. He is once again considered doubtful for this game and his status will be a game time decision. The Celtics have added Marcus Smart to their injury list with a chest contusion suffered in Game 1. He will also be a game time decision. I’ve included him in the starting lineup because if there is any way he can play, I believe he will. Danilo Gallinari remains out as he rehabs from an ACL tear.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Marcus Smart (chest contusion) questionable
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Joel Embiid (knee) doubtful
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
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. In Game 1, Harden took over the game and finished with 45 points, 1 rebound, 6 assists and 2 steals. He shot 56.7% from the field and 50% from beyond the arc. It goes without saying that the Celtics need to stay with him in this game, especially on the perimeter.
Derrick White vs Tyrese Maxey
In the first round against the Nets he averaged 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 Game 1, he finished with 26 points, 1 rebound 2 assists and 4 steals. He shot 41.7% from the field but just 22.2% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to play him tougher in this game and limit his scoring. They also need to take better care of the ball and limit his steals.
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 Game 1, he finished with 18 points, 5 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 1 block, while shooting 50% from the field and 40% from beyond the arc. The Celtics need to stay with him on defense, especially on the perimeter.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs. The Celtics, however, ignored this fact in the first game and played terrible defense in Game 1. The Celtics are 12th in the playoffs in defensive efficiency. The 4 teams below them have already been eliminated. Over the last 5 playoff games, the Celtics have allowed 122.8 points/100 possessions. This would have been last in the league in the regular season, let alone the playoffs. The Celtics made it to the Finals last season on the strength of their defense but that defense has been missing this season. 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. If Marcus Smart can’t play, then the task of playing tough defense gets even harder.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. The Celtics are 9th in the playoffs with 44.0 rebounds per game while the Sixers are 7th with 44.4 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.
Stay Focused - The Celtics need to stay focused on playing the game the right way. 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 and forced 16 turnovers in Game1 for 20 points. The Celtics have to keep their focus on playing hard and on playing the right way. They must stay focused on their defensive assignments and not allow the 76ers easy baskets.
Intensity and Effort - In Game 1, the Celtics lacked both intensity and effort. They allowed the 76ers to play harder than them. The Celtics were hitting shots -58.6% from the field, but they slacked off on defense and the 76ers played with much more effort on defense. They did not show the type of intensity that is needed to win a playoff game. They have to come into this game with the mindset that they will be aggressive and play with maximum effort.
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. Doc has been criticized for his inability to get his teams out of the second round but he out-coached Joe Mazzulla in Game 1. Now it’s time for Mazzulla to make adjustments and try to get the best of Doc in this game.
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 and Game 1 against the 76ers. The 76ers are a good road team, with a 25-16 record on the road in the regular season and 3-0 record so far in the playoffs. 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.