After going the distance against the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics must quickly focus their attention on a more dangerous rival, the Philadelphia 76ers. After becoming preseason favorites to win the East, the Celtics have become a shell of their former selves due to various injuries. On the other side, it only took the Philadelphia 76ers five games to take down the Miami Heat. This well-rested 76ers team will have the advantage against the Celtics, who only had a day to prepare for this series. We take a look at the match-up in this Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers series preview.
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers Series Preview
The Celtics won three out of the four head-to-head regular season games against the 76ers. Boston had won three straight games against Philadelphia this season before losing the last regular season contest against them. One key detail that is left out when reading the scores of these games is that Kyrie Irving played in all but one of those four games. The game he missed was the one that Boston lost. This is important because Boston will be without Irving the rest of the playoffs.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia’s star rookie, shot 48 percent against the Celtics in the season series while averaging 13 points per game. Simmons’ ability to create offense cannot be ignored, as he nearly averaged a triple-double in his first full season in the NBA.
In his first playoff series, Simmons shined. He averaged 18 points, 11 rebounds, and nine assists against Miami. Simmons shot 50 percent from the field and averaged seven free throw attempts per game. His ability to attack the basket will be key in this series. Simmons is 6’10”, bigger than most of the guards who may defend him. More specifically, he’s much taller than Marcus Smart, one of Boston’s best defenders.
The 76ers caught a break when Joel Embiid only missed the first two games of the playoffs due to a facial fracture. Embiid came out of the gates strong, scoring 23 points in his first game back from injury. Embiid averaged 19 points and three blocks in his three playoff games against the Heat. He wanted everyone to “trust the process.” Now that the process has led Embiid and the Sixers to the second round, Embiid needs to take control of the series.
Terry Rozier continues to surprise since taking over the point guard role after Kyrie Irving went down. He was fantastic in March, averaging 17 points. However, he stumbled into the playoffs shooting just 26 percent in April in the regular season.
Rozier has been awesome this post-season, looking like a key piece to a title contending team. In the seven-game series against the Bucks, he averaged 17 points and eight assists per game. One important aspect of Rozier’s game is his lack of turnovers. For such a young guard, he knows how to handle the ball and maintain his composure. He only averaged two turnovers per game against the Bucks, including two games in which he had zero turnovers.
Al Horford did not have his best regular season. However, his impact goes beyond the box score and he’s having one of his best playoff performances. Horford will be the X-factor for the Celtics in this series. He will be the one guarding Joel Embiid for most of the time he’s on the floor. With Irving out, Horford is one of the most experienced veterans this team has. For the Celtics to win, Horford needs to take control in this series and help guide Boston’s younger players. He has the advantage of being a big man with a jump shot. Horford needs to use his scoring ability to create space on the floor and exploit the 76ers’ defense.
Along with Irving and Gordon Hayward, one of Boston’s top scorers, Jaylen Brown, will miss at least the first game of this series with a hamstring injury. Brown is one of Boston’s top scorers and the team will need him healthy to have a chance to win this series. Brown was averaging 21 points per game in the series against the Bucks before getting hurt in Game 7.
Takeaways and Expectations
Brad Stevens is a huge reason the Celtics won the series against Milwaukee and he will be the reason this series goes at least six games. As talented as the 76ers are, they are still a young team that is doing this for the first time. Stevens has more playoff experience and success. Most notably, he took his team to the Eastern Conference Finals last year. Philadelphia looks like the favorite, but if Boston’s roster can play to its potential, the Celtics can make this a very interesting seven-game series.
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