The mean streets of Boston. The Sixers return tonight to the site of Jahlil Okafor’s most Philadelphia moment, taking on the rival Celtics, who sit at 17-6 on the season after losing 122-117 to the Pacers in Indiana last night. To add injury to insult in defeat, Boston now has to worry about Gordon Hayward’s availability. After recently returning from a broken left hand, Hayward was hit in the nose during last night’s fourth quarter. Initial tests said he didn’t break the nose or have a concussion, but he will be reevaluated today in Boston.
Tonight marks the second meeting between these two clubs this season, after the Sixers won the season opener at home, 107-93. All five starters scored 15 or more points, setting the stage for what has been a dominant five-man unit in the limited time the group has been able to take the court together. The Sixers’ starters currently have a plus-13.8 net rating across their 113 minutes.
Aside from the simple fact of two Eastern Conference rivals going at it, who both sit four games back of first-place Milwaukee, the biggest narrative involves Al Horford playing his first game back in Boston since leaving the Celtics in free agency to join the Sixers. After three seasons in Celtics green, I’ll be curious to see the Boston fans’ reaction to Horford’s return; he was always a valuable and harmonious player for the organization, but he did leave for a hated rival. Either way, it’s wonderful for Al to finally be in a place where fans truly appreciate the value of turning a good shot into a great shot.
After the player introductions are out of the way, the Sixers will be trying to improve upon their 5-7 record away from home. While that mark is already a far cry from the team’s 13-0 home record, it doesn’t even fully represent their recent struggles outside of Philadelphia. The Sixers have won just two of their last seven games on the road, with those two wins coming against Cleveland and New York, who are the worst two teams in the Eastern Conference, and completely dysfunctional to boot. In fact, all five of Philadelphia’s road wins have come against below-.500 teams. A victory tonight would go a long way towards dispelling the concern that they can’t play their best ball in front of a hostile crowd.
Fortunately, the Sixers have a couple things working in their favor — rest and health. Although the Sixers will have to travel back home after the game for a Friday night meeting with the Pelicans, they did not have a game yesterday like Boston did. Philadelphia also has all their main rotation players available, although Josh Richardson may still be on some sort of minutes restriction. Meanwhile, though, both Marcus Smart and “Time Lord” Robert Williams were sidelined last night for Boston; those two and Hayward are all up in the air for tonight’s proceedings.
Like Tuesday night, tonight is a national-only broadcast. It will be weird not to have Marc and Alaa on the call for the second game in a row, but let’s make the best of it and hopefully watch the Sixers channel their inner road warriors.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics
When: 8:00 pm ET
Where: TD Garden, Boston, MA
Listen: 97.5 The Fanatic
Boston: Marcus Smart (questionable - eye, illness); Gordon Hayward (questionable - nose); Robert Williams (questionable - hip); Tacko Fall (out - knee)