In a matchup that could be a preview of years to come, the Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will do battle in the second round of the NBA playoffs.
This matchup showcases some of the top young talents in the East and in all of the NBA—the Celtics are led by young studs Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum and the Sixers showcase potential Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons and dynamic young stars in Joel Embiid, Dario Saric, and Robert Covington.
Both teams are coming into the series dogged by injuries, although the Celtics are in much worse shape than the Sixers.
As Celtics fans are already painfully aware of, All-Stars Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are both out for the season, as well as big man Daniel Theis. Marcus Smart was able to come back for the end of the series against the Bucks but is still nursing a thumb injury. Jaylen Brown went down with a hamstring issue in game seven and is doubtful for game one.
The Sixers, however, are battered down as well. Embiid is playing with a fractured orbital bone and is playing with a mask.
How did each team fare in its previous series?
The Sixers took care of the Miami Heat in five games, but each win was filled with chippy play and hard-nosed attitudes throughout the series. This was Philadelphia’s inaugural playoff run with the players that became known as “The Process” as well as head coach Brett Brown, and they performed admirably.
The Celtics meanwhile had an easy two games up in Boston to take a 2-0 series lead against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks won each of the next two games, and Smart’s return paid big dividends and the Celtics were able to hold off Giannis Antetokounmpo and the rest of the Bucks in order to advance.
Who are the players to watch in the series?
For the Celtics, the spotlight will shine on Al Horford, Aron Baynes, and Smart.
Horford was nothing short of sensational in the first round of the playoffs, putting up 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds, 3.3 assists and 0.7 steals per game against the Bucks. He was the go-to man for the Celtics throughout the first round and must continue to ball out if the Celtics want to advance.
Baynes will be important, but for an entirely different reason. He will most likely be tasked as the primary defender on Embiid. Baynes will need to be at his best because, in the NBA, superstars get all the calls, and he will probably be in foul trouble more often than not. Any offense he adds is just frosting on the cake, as he needs to be able to limit Embiid the way Semi Ojeleye did against Giannis in games five, six, and seven.
The last player to watch is Smart. After covering the likes of Khris Middleton and Eric Bledsoe, Smart will now have to Simmons and J.J. Redick. Smart is known for his defense and tenacity and guarding Simmons is no easy task.
What is the previous history between the two teams?
The Celtics won the season series 3-1 this year, with all of the games taking place before February—inlcuding a showdown in London.
The last time the Sixers and Celtics met in the playoffs was the 2012 Eastern Conference Semifinals, where the Celtics bested the Sixers in a grueling seven-game series. There are no players on either current roster that remain from those two teams. All-time, the Celtics hold the edge over Philadelphia in the playoffs.
Series prediction and X-factors
The Celtics have their work cut out for them this series as they are short-handed and facing what many consider is the new favorite to represent the Eastern Conference in the finals.
For my prediction, I am going bold and saying the Celtics win in five games. I think that Baynes has shown that he can cover Embiid and the return of Smart has re-energized the team on both ends.
The Celtics have what it takes to present a balanced attack and force the 76ers to defend multiple players. For all the talk of Brown and Tatum in their first playoffs as starters, Simmons and Embiid are going through the same thing, and I think that the solid Celtics defense could frustrate the young Sixers team.
The biggest X-factor for me will be how Brad Stevens decides to attack Joel Embiid. Will he send Baynes and Greg Monroe at him all day long, or will he give a couple points on the defensive end by putting Horford on him while being able to spread the floor on offense?
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) April 29, 2018