Here we are, at what is the most pivotal point of the season. The Sixers and Celtics will tip off in Boston at 3:30 p.m. to decide who advances to the Conference Finals.
The Sixers are coming off a largely uninspiring performance, where they were held without a field goal for nearly the final seven minutes of Game 6. The Celtics’ adjustment of starting Rob Williams greatly helped the C’s defense, as he was able to sag off of P.J Tucker and muck up the Sixers’ offense. The Celtics will likely do this again, which begs the question if the Sixers should switch up their starting five.
The on-off numbers strongly support that the Sixers’ starting group is better with De’Anthony Melton in Tucker’s place. Tucker’s defense, however, has been crucial to keeping Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown in check. Melton can hold his own on the defensive end, but him guarding two guys who greatly outsize him for long periods is a huge ask. Doc Rivers has shown a willingness to pull Tucker when he struggles, but is he willing to bring him off the bench entirely?
Outside of Boston’s adjustment, the Sixers will look for much more production from James Harden and Tobias Harris. Harden had some good moments in Game 6, but was inconsistent at best. The Sixers have won all of the games he’s performed well in, and they’ll need just one more to get past this series.
For those looking at trends:— Harrison Grimm (@Harrison_Grimm) May 12, 2023
James Harden in …
Game 1: 45 points, 56.7% FG, W
Game 2: 12 points, 14.3% FG, L
Game 3: 16 points, 21.4% FG, L
Game 4: 42 points, 69.6% FG, W
Game 5: 17 points, 50% FG, W
Game 6: 13 points, 25% FG, L
Harris, on the other hand, has had a brutal series. His Game 5 performance of 16 points and 11 rebounds was huge, and a similar line could give the Sixers’ a much-needed boost. Chasing around Tatum and Brown isn’t easy, and I give him credit with those defensive matchups, but he simply needs to be better this time around.
Then there’s Joel Embiid, who has mostly been very good in this series. Defensively, he’s been a monster and has been crucial in slowing down Boston’s offense. It’s a do-or-die game, which means starters will log Tom Thibodeau-esqe numbers for playing time. Managing Embiid so he’s on the court as much as possible without him being gassed at the end will be a difficult task for Doc Rivers.
The Sixers have won twice in Boston this series, and they’ll need to do it once more to avoid another second-round exit. We’ve seen the Sixers come together and win games this season that they simply wouldn’t have in year’s past. It’s time to see how real it all was. It all comes down to today.
Who: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics
When: 3:30 pm EST
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Massachusetts
Radio: 97.5 The Fanatic