Starting Monday, at 6:30 ET, the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics will begin their 22nd playoff series against one another — as the two franchises have met each other in the post season more than any other matchup in NBA history by seven total series. Unfortunately, for the Sixers, the Celtics own a 13-8 lead in the head-to-head playoff history, and have emerged victorious in each of the last four series. The Sixers last won in the 1982 Eastern Conference Finals, when the team barely avoided blowing a 3-1 lead to Boston in back-to-back years, largely thanks to “The Boston Strangler” Andrew Toney, who finished with 34 points on 14-of-23 shooting in the game seven victory.
In fact, four of the Sixers’ eight series victories actually came back when the franchise went by the Syracuse Nationals moniker. Since coming to Philadelphia, the franchise has gone 4-9 versus their hated rivals from Boston in post season matchups.
This fateful 22nd series pits and overachieving Celtics’ squad against one of the greatest underachievers of 2020 in the 76ers. However, the Sixers did manage to win the seasons series 3-1 over Boston, largely due to their size advantage inside with Joel Embiid.
Here’s some of our staff members’ predictions for how it’s all going to go down:
Despite ranking a mediocre 12th in non-Garbage time points per 100 possessions according to Cleaning the Glass, I believe the Sixers’ offense will perform quite well in this series. The strength of Embiid inside can give the Celtics a lot of problems, as they’ll likely revert to aggressive same-side double teams and straight up flopping in order to force the big man into turnovers and foul trouble. Daniel Theis and Embiid only played each other in two games this, in which the Sixers generated 36 team points on 34.5 partial possessions i.e. 1.04 points per possessions, which is bad. Embiid himself only shot 5-of-13 from the field against Theis and managed to garner six attempts from the free throw line. But Embiid looked much improved in the four bubble games that the Sixers actually cared about winning, and in those averaged 30 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists on 61.3% true shooting, while also increasing his free throw rate from 10.4 attempts per 36 to an even 12. The other Sixers will likely struggle against Boston’s fourth ranked defense, but if they continue their red hot 41.6% shooting from three during the bubble games, scoring will not be an issue.
The bigger problem, as I see it, is the Sixers’ subpar defensive philosophy. The preseason prediction for most was a historic, league-leading defense for the Sixers, yet they only finished a good but not great seventh overall. A lot of those struggles can be explained in this awesome video by Coach Daniel. The Sixers prioritize taking away three pointers and jump shots in favor of keeping their big men position near the rim, whereas the Celtics and the other elite defenses of the Raptors and Celtics willingly surrender the most three point attempts in the league, understanding that shooting in the restricted area is still the most efficient area on the court. The Celtics rank third in the league in PPP from the ball handler off of pick and roll action, whereas the Sixers are only 14th in defending that same thing. I fear that Brett Brown will not make the adjustment of having Embiid strictly stay near the attacking driver to help his guards a la Brook Lopez, and will instead have him running out to take shots away from Daniel Theis that aren’t really necessary. If the Sixers want any chance to win, Embiid needs to go supernova in at least four games while also getting significant help from his wingmen, and I sadly don’t see that happening.
Prediction — Celtics in Six
The Celtics just have the better team, right now. Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers have neither the perimeter defense nor the offensive identity to string together enough quality performances versus a team as good and consistent as Boston. I am underwhelmed at the possibility of the Sixers accruing enough supplementary scoring from non-Embiid players to overcome Boston’s brigade of wing scorers. I am afraid we may be in for a rude awakening and ultimately sobering look at the team’s flawed construction in a few weeks.
Eh, screw it. I’m taking the Sixers! Who cares, it’s all fake anyway. Joel Embiid is healthy and he is one of the most impactful players in the NBA on both ends of the court. Without Ben Simmons, the Sixers will spread out the team’s wings to force Boston to either double Joel and leave a shooter uncovered, or to allow Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter to crumble beneath the stanchions as Embiid backs them down one-on-one. Matisse Thybulle will punctuate his wonderful defensive season with a round full of tempered, consistent guarding of Jayson Tatum. Furkan Korkmaz will score 29 points in game 7. That’s my time, have a great night.
Prediction- Sixers in Seven.
Let me get this straight.
The Philadelphia 76ers may be without Ben Simmons for the entire post-season – barring a long run to the NBA Finals. Sure, that’s a net negative, but when you consider that the Sixers will still have two of the top five players on the floor when all the starters are on, I find this a little disrespectful:
Really? The Sixers are THAT HEAVY an underdog against a team in the Boston Celtics who they won three out of four games against P.B. (pre-bubble). That is incredibly disrespectful, and if I were head coach Brett Brown, I would echo that.
Joel Embiid. The Celtics are favored that heavy even though they have no one that can keep you from dominating this series. This series is served up to you on a platter to average 30 and 15. (SIDE NOTE: He better, or I’m personally going to be extremely pissed off.)
Al Horford. The Sixers are that big of an underdog, and they (the Celtics) low-balled you on a contract offer this past off-season. You were the “Joel Embiid Stopper”. That alone is worth the price of admission. Doesn’t that stick in your craw a little bit? Don’t you want to enter every game with a little more “FOH”?
Tobias Harris. I know you aren’t going to stand for this. After playing for what seems like every NBA team in your career, you finally get the long-term commitment you yearned for (as the debate over the contract rages on), and this is the feeling of the team you’ve called home?
Yes, the Celtics have more wings than they know what to do with in Jayson Tatum, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown. Yes, they have Kemba Walker – who will likely give Shake Milton a big lesson in playoff basketball. As previously stated, the Celtics don’t have any player worth a damn taller than seven feet tall. Sure, Enes Kanter could prove beneficial, but he does less than nothing on the defensive end.
The Sixers should have more of a mental edge since they’re being so disrespected by that line and the season at large. So many media members have been disappointed in the team’s performance. So many fans have been disappointed in the team’s performance. This should be a series where the Sixers come out and simply say:
“Don’t disrespect us. We ain’t no b*s.” (This just sounds like something Mike Scott would say prior to game one, by the way.)
Prediction — Sixers in 6.
To be completely honest with you I’m finding it extremely hard to really get up for a Sixers playoff game this season. Whether it’s because of the atmosphere with no fans, the Sixers mostly disappointing restart or a mixture of the two I just haven’t been as excited about this series as the previous two years. Having to go at it without Ben Simmons against the hated Celtics doesn’t help things either.
But even with all of the doom and gloom this season has brought I still think the Sixers keep things surprisingly close. The bench unit has stepped up in the bubble and just the sheer star power of Joel Embiid alone is enough to steal at least one game. I’m also counting on an Al Horford revenge game against his old team, because we’re in the year 2020 and things can’t get any weirder. Don’t get me wrong, the Celtics are the better team in this series, but you never want to count out an underdog. We all remember what happened the last time a Philadelphia team was an underdog against a team from the Boston area in the playoffs...
Prediction — Celtics in Six.
Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter on Embiid gets the Sixers to ~1.5 wins right there. The other half a game will be a hot shooting game from Philly or an off-game from Boston. It could go five if Joel isn’t 100 percent and it’s the Sixers who shoot poorly. Shake Milton could be in over his head here. Horford plays well.
Prediction- Celtics in 6.