The Celtics take on the 76ers in Philadelphia for Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The 76ers surprised the Celtics 119-115 in Boston in Game 1 without Joel Embiid. The Celtics then came back and evened the series with a 121-87 blow out win in Boston in Game 2. The Celtics kept up the momentum as they beat the 76ers 114-102 as the series shifted to Philadelphia.
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 112 playoff games against each other. Of those, the Celtics have won 64 while the 76ers have won 48. The Celtics are 44-16 all time in playoff games against the 76ers played in Boston.
Teams that win Game 3 of a 1-1 best-of-seven series and go up 2-1 in the series go on to win the series 79.8% of the time.When a team that is 2-1 in the series wins Game 4 to go up 3-1, they go on to win the series 95.4% of the time. When the series is tied 2-2, it can go either way. 76ers fans can be happy that Doc Rivers can’t have a 3-1 lead. Doc has lost a total of six playoff series after having won at least three games and is the first head coach in history to blow a 3-1 series lead three times.
League MVP Joel Embiid started Games 2 and 3 and played almost 40 minutes in Game 3 after missing the first game of the series with a knee sprain. He is once again listed on the injury list as questionable but he will likely play. Marcus Smart is once again on the injury list for the Celtics with an ankle sprain. He has been dealing with a chest contusion, a shoulder stinger and a lip laceration and has played through all of them. I’m guessing that he will likely play in this one as well. Blake Griffin is listed as questionable with lower back pain and Danilo Gallinari remains out with the ACL rehab.
Probable Celtics Starters
Robert Williams III
2 Way Players
Danilo Gallinari (ACL) out
Blake Griffin (back) questionable
Marcus Smart (ankle) questonable
Probable 76ers Starters
Danuel House, Jr
2 Way Players
Joel Embiid (knee) questionable
Al Horford vs Joel Embiid
With Embiid back in the starting lineup, this becomes a key matchup. Embiid seemed a bit rusty in Game 2, 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. In Game 3, he played much better, finishing with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks in almost 40 minutes. The Celtics need to continue to make things difficult for him as he can be a difference maker if he is allowed to gain confidence.
Marcus Smart vs James Harden
James Harden has had one very, very good game and two very bad games 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. Then in Game 3, he finished with 16 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists and 1 steal. He shot just 21.4% from the field and 28.6% from beyond the arc. Jaylen Brown was the main defender on him in Games 2 and 3 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. In Game 3, he finished with 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists and 2 blocks. The Celtics need to play him tough in this game and limit his scoring once again as if he gains confidence, he can have a big game.
Keys to the Game
Defense - Defense will always be key to winning every game, especially in the playoffs. The Celtics lost Game 1 because they failed to play defense. They won Games 2 and 3 because they limited the 76ers with smothering defense. 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 Games 2 and 3 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 10th with 43.6 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, who are 5th in the playoffs with 16.4 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 Games 2 and 3, 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 the last two games 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 the extra pass to find the open man and the best shot. 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 and 12 times in Game 3. 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 Games 2 and 3 and made adjustments and the Celtics got the win in both games. Doc will likely make adjustments going into the 4th game and Mazzulla will need to be ready to match those.
Matinee Game - This game is an afternoon game, 43 hours after the end of their last game. Will the early game have an effect on either team? Will the quick turnaround between games affect either team. With Embiid just getting his conditioning back after missing time with the sprain, will the quick turnaround affect him, especially as the game goes on?
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.