With the series tied at 2 games each, the venue shifts back to Boston. These two teams split the first two games in Boston with the 76ers winning 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. But then, in Game 4, the Celtics slipped again and the 76ers won 116-115 in overtime.
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 113 playoff games against each other. Of those, the Celtics have won 64 while the 76ers have won 49. The Celtics are 44-16 all time in playoff games against the 76ers played in Boston.
This is a very important game because the winner takes control of the series and is just one win away from moving on to the next round. The Celtics need to win to keep home court advantage that they fought for in the regular season. If the 76ers win, they can once again wrest home court from the Celtics and can close the series out in Game 6 on their own court. Teams that win Game 5 of a 7 game series that is tied at 2-2 go on to win the series 84.1% of the time.
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 played 46 minutes in Game 4 but he is once again listed on the injury list as questionable for this game. I expect that he will play. Marcus Smart has been questionable for the past 3 games with a chest contusion, sprained ankle, and shoulder stinger and has played through all of these injuries. He is not on the injury list at this time. Danilo Gallinari remains out.
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) questionable
Al Horford vs Joel Embiid
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. But he has improved with each game he has played. In Game 3, he finished with 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 1 steal and 4 blocks in almost 40 minutes and in Game 4, he finished with 34 points, 13 rebounds, 4 assists, and 1 steal in 46 minutes. He also shot 15 free throws. The Celtics need 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 two very, very good games 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 Games 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. In Game 4, he was once again dominant, finishing with 42 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 4 steals and 1 block. He shot 69.6% from the field and 66.7% from beyond the arc. The Celtics must once again focus on slowing him down and keep him from having another big 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. In Game 4, he had 14 points, 8 rebounds, 1 assists, and 1 block. 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. Defense wins championships. 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. Once again in Game 4, the defense was inconsistent. The Celtics allowed 92 points in the 1st 3 quarters but then finally clamped down on defense in the 4th quarter and limited them to 15 points in the final period. 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 in the 4th quarter of Game 4. 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. 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 4th in the playoffs with 16.5 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. 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. The Celtics led Game 4 by 5 points with 2:04 to play but then lost focus and made several errors in the final 2 minutes of the game and in the final minute of overtime. They must stay focused on making the right play and on playing the right way.
Be Aggressive - The Celtics must be the more aggressive team. They have to play with effort and intensity. They have to be more aggressive in going for loose balls, rebounding, defending, taking the ball to the basket, and in every aspect of the game. They have to play with more effort and play like the team that wants it more. When the Celtics have lost in this series, it was because the 76ers were more aggressive and played harder than them. They must be more aggressive from the opening tip until the final buzzer, not just in the 4th quarter.
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 Games 1 and 4. Mazzulla had the edge in Games 2 and 3 and made adjustments in both games. Much was made of Mazzulla’s lack of time outs at the end of Game 4 and many believe that cost the Celtics the win. Which coach will make the right moves in this game to help his team to the win.
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 3-1 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. Doc Rivers ranted about a push off in the final minutes of Game 4 but the Last 2 Minutes report said it was a correct no call. It will be interesting to see if this influences the calls in this game.