The venue now shifts to Philadelphia with the series tied at one game each. The 76ers, without Joel Embiid, stunned the Celtics 119-115 in Game 1 in Boston. The Celtics then found their defense once again and came back in Game 2 to blow out the 76ers 121-87, also in Boston. In Game 3, will the Celtics remain in attack mode and bring their defense to Philadelphia, or will the 76ers storm back and win on their home court?
This is the 22nd meeting in the playoffs between these two Atlantic Division Rivals with the Celtics holding a 14-7 edge. This is more than between any other two teams in the league. 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.
Teams that win Game 3 of a 1-1 best-of-seven series go on to win the series 73.3% of the time. While not an absolutely must-win game, Game 3 is very important for momentum and a mental edge for the team that gets the win. This will be a very hostile crowd. 76ers fans hate Al Horford for coming there and not being as good as they thought he should be. And they hate Jayson Tatum for being picked third when they swapped picks with the Celtics to take Markelle Fultz first. And, they hate the Celtics just because.
League MVP Joel Embiid started Game 2 and played 27 minutes after missing the previous two 76ers games with a knee sprain. He is once again listed on the injury list as a game time decision. However, he participated in practice on Thursday and so I expect him to play in this game unless he has a set-back last minute. For the Celtics, only Danilo Gallinari is on the injury list for ACL rehab.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Joel Embiid (knee) game time decision
Al Horford vs Joel Embiid
With Embiid back in the starting lineup, this becomes a key matchup. Embiid seemed a bit rusty in Wednesday’s game, finishing with 15 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, and 5 blocks in 26 minutes. He shot 44.4% from the field but missed both of the 3 pointers that he took. He made the biggest impact on defense, blocking 5 shots and changing several others. Embiid will receive his MVP trophy in front of the home crowd before the game and will be amped up and ready to play. The Celtics need to make things difficult for him as he likely is not 100% as yet.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
James Harden has had one very, very good game and one very, very bad game so far. 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. In Game 2, he finished with 12 points, 10 rebounds, and 4 assists. He shot just 14.3% from the field and missed all 6 of his 3 pointers. Jaylen Brown was the main defender on him in Game 2 and I wouldn’t be surprised to see this pairing again in this game.
Derrick White vs Tyrese Maxey
In Game 1, Maxey 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. In Game 2, he finished with 13 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists and 1 block. The Celtics need to play him tough in this game and limit his scoring once again. They also need to take better care of the ball and limit his steals.
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 virtually no defense in Game 1. The Celtics are 9th in the playoffs in defensive efficiency. The 76ers are 7th with a defensive rating of 111.0. The Celtics made it to the Finals last season on the strength of their defense but that defense has been missing for much of this season. They finally rediscovered their defensive identity in Game 2 and the Celtics have to come into this game with that same defensive mindset. They have to make defense their priority for every possession of the game because that is how they are going to win.
Rebound - Rebounding is second to defense as a key to winning. The Celtics are 8th in the playoffs with 44.3 rebounds per game while the Sixers are 9th with 43.8 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 2nd in the playoffs with 17.7 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.
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. In Game 2, they flipped the switch and came out ready to play tough defense and to put out more effort than the 76ers. They have to come into this game with the same mindset that they had in Game 2 and be aggressive and play with maximum effort.
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 did much better in Game 2, turning the ball over just 7 times. They need that same focus on taking care of the ball in this game. 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.
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. Mazzulla came back in Game 2 and made adjustments and the Celtics blew out the 76ers. Doc will likely make adjustments going into the 3rd game and Mazzulla will need to be ready to match those.
On the Road - The Celtics will be on the road and facing a very hostile crowd. Philly fans hate the Celtics because they have pretty much owned them in recent years. They hate Al Horford because he didn’t live up to their expectations in Philly. They hate Jayson Tatum because the Celtics took him with Philly’s pick after the 76ers traded up to take Markelle Fultz. And, they hate Marcus Smart, Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White simply because they are good. There will likely be a lot of boos and the Celtics need to play through them. They also need to ignore the distractions of travel and hotel living, and an unfamiliar court and just go out and play Celtics basketball.
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.