From Russell and Wilt in the 60’s to Bird and Erving in the 80’s and even to Pierce and Iverson in the early 2000’s, the Celtics and 76ers have a great playoff history against each other. These two young teams will now face each other in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The 76ers got through the Miami Heat in round 1 easily in 5 games. On the other hand, the shorthanded Celtics barely got by the Bucks, but managed to do so in 7 games (gotta love homecourt advantage). Homecourt advantage lies with the Celtics in the second round as they are the 2 seed and Philly is the 3. As was the case with the first round, homecourt is huge for young teams as they tend to ride the crowd substantially more than older experienced teams. The Celtics won the regular season series 3-1, but they had Kyrie for those matchups. Whether this series is a sweep or goes 7, it’s gonna be a scrappy grind-it-out bunch of games.
Celtics Key to Winning: Whoever Defends Ben Simmons
For the Bucks series, I noted that Al Horford was the key to winning since he would be defending Giannis. He defended the Greek Freak with general success for the first few games, but Stevens discovered that Semi Ojeleye would be more of a matchup nightmare and defended Antetokounmpo for the final 3 games. For this series, Horford needs to defend Joel Embiid. Horford absolutely shutdown Embiid in the regular season and will be expected to do so again. Ben Simmons is the real threat. In the first round, Simmons averaged 18.2 points per game, 9 assists per games, and 10.6 rebounds a game. In other words, doing it all. Stevens will need to find a matchup against him that can keep him from driving to the rim and I believe it will be Ojeleye but could be Morris or Tatum as well. The Celtics chances to win the series increases a bunch if they can greatly limit Simmons penetration.
76ers Key to Winning: Perimeter Shooting
The Celtics will be putting nearly all of their defensive focus on Simmons and Embiid. Those two mainly score around the rim meaning that there should be shooters spread around the perimeter waiting to catch and shoot. JJ Redick, Robert Covington, and Dario Saric need to hit their threes. The Sixers have great shooting off of the bench with Belinelli and Ilyasova as well. If all of those mentioned players are hitting their shots, then this series won’t go far at all. I didn’t even mention Embiid who can knock threes down with the best of the big men out there. The shooters doing well will lead to the Celtics needing to tightly defend the perimeter and having the lane open for Simmons or Embiid to penetrate and do serious damage.
Celtics Wild Card to Winning: Getting in the Sixers Heads
Boston and Philly had a few skirmishes earlier in the season when they battled it out 4 times. Boston and Philly are two scrappy teams that will for sure be physical with one another to try and outdo each other. The two Marcus’ are key here since they’re the best at beefing the other teams. The Sixers are young and undisciplined, and I could for sure see them retaliating to some words with physicality. If any of the Sixers get technical fouls in Boston that crowd will be roaring. A roaring crowd is definitely an advantage for the team that claims that arena home. Playoff beef is going to happen, and Boston needs to make it happen for their own advantage.
76ers Wild Card to Winning: Avoiding Game 7
If the Sixers want to win this series in the easiest way, they need to finish it in 6 games or less. This is the case for a few reasons. First off is the obvious reason, no road team has an easy time in Boston for a game 7. Just ask the Bucks from the other night. The Celtics offense does obnoxiously good with that crowd backing them up for a game 7. Even inconsistent Tatum rode the crowd for double digit points in the 3rd quarter. Scary Terry and Average Al each had 26 points apiece. Outside of the crowd, Jaylen Brown should be back at full health by a game 7. Brown left game 7 against the Bucks with a hamstring strain and has been deemed doubtful for the early portion of this series. If the Celtics can grind it out and push it to 7 without a fully healthy Jaylen, then it’s bad news for Philly. Sixers need to stay disciplined late in games and win the series before a pivotal game 7.
My Prediction: 76ers Win in 5
This prediction kills me as a Celtics fan, but there are so many factors that make this the likely outcome in my mind. First, the Sixers had six days rest opposed to Boston having just one night off between game 7 against the Bucks and this game 1. I have a weird hunch that rested legs are better than exhausted game 7 legs. Also, Jaylen probably missing early games in this series is upsetting for Boston. Brown was the second leading scorer in that first round series. Lastly, the Celtics are just overall outmatched. Simmons and Embiid are the best two players on the court with Kyrie and Hayward not playing. Their talent should be enough to ride them to this series win. Then again, this Celtics team is special and can never be counted out.
-Brandon Black (Follow @bhblack02)