The much awaited Christmas day game between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers is just days away. This decades-old rivalry has been heating up over the last year or so as both teams have begun their ascensions to Eastern Conference contenders.
The Celtics started off the month of December with six straight wins before dropping their last two games to Detroit and Phoenix. They also lost big man Aron Baynes for about a month, so he will not be playing/harassing Joel Embiid down low on Tuesday.
The Sixers have been up and down lately and are 6-4 in the month of December. They managed to get a big win on Saturday evening against the Raptors, thanks to Toronto sitting multiple starters on the second game of a back to back. The 76ers are now about to embark on a very difficult 4-game road trip against Boston, Utah, Portland and LAC – thanks to Disney on Ice.
The Previous Meeting
As you probably remember, Boston won the previous matchup against the Sixers on opening night in Boston, 105-87. It was an ugly night for the Sixers as they were trying to get Ben Simmons, Joel Embiid, and Markelle Fultz acclimated to playing alongside each other in the starting lineup. The Sixers shot 19% from three and 61% from the FT line in that game and just looked rusty and a bit out of sorts. JJ Redick came off the bench in that game and gave the Sixers 16 points, but the rest of the bench only gave the Sixers 10 points on 3-10 shooting.
The Celtics had their own struggles in that game as it was Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward’s first game back from season-ending injuries the previous season. They combined for 17 points on 6-26 shooting in that game. Jayson Tatum had 23 points to lead the Celtics in scoring, and Marcus Morris dominated Dario Saric throughout to a 16 and 10 line.
Quite a bit, actually. The Sixers made a huge splash in trading for Jimmy Butler. Markelle Fultz is injured and will not play in this game. Of course, Dario Saric and Robert Covington are no longer with the Sixers, and Wilson Chandler did not play in the opener either.
For Boston, Kyrie Irving has found his stride since his opening night clunker and is averaging 23 PPG and shooting better than 40% from three on the season. Rookie big man Robert Williams is averaging almost 20 minutes per game over the last five games after hardly playing through October and November. Also, as mentioned above, Aron Baynes was injured the other night and will miss the Christmas day game against Philadelphia.
Some Interesting Numbers:
DEFENSE: The Celtics are currently allowing 104.3 points per game (4th in the NBA), while the Sixers are allowing 112.1 points per game (23rd in the NBA).
OFFENSE: The Sixers are averaging 114.2 points per game (7th in the NBA), while the Celtics are averaging 111.2 points per game (14th in the NBA).
PACE: The Sixers rank 8th in the NBA in terms of pace of play (102.3 possession per game), while the Celtics rank 18th (100.4 possessions per game).
TURNOVERS: The Celtics are 5th in the NBA in Turnover % at 13.4%. The Sixers are 21st at 15%.
1st Quarter Scoring: The Sixers rank 1st in the NBA with an average of 30.6 points scored in the first quarter. The Celtics are 17th with an average of 27.6 points scored in the first quarter.
4th Quarter Scoring: The Celtics rank 3rd in the NBA with an average of 28.3 points scored in the fourth quarter. The Sixers are 13th with an average of 27.0 points scored in the fourth quarter.
4th Quarter Defense: The Celtics allow opponents to score an average of 26.3 points in the fourth quarter (12th). The Sixers allow opponents to score an average of 28.0 points in fourth quarters (28th in the NBA).
What to Expect
Personally, I think this game will have a significantly different feel than the previous game. A lot of this will have to do with Jimmy Butler now being on the Sixers roster and Aron Baynes being injured. Also, Kyrie Irving has his legs under him and will likely not shoot as poorly as he did in the season opener. I kind of feel like Boston tries to punch the Sixers in the mouth (so to speak) when they play each other, and I think Jimmy Butler will help the Sixers punch back this time around.
I think Brad Stevens will play Ben Simmons the exact same way he has in every other game against the Sixers. He will have his defense create a wall around the foul line and not let Ben get inside for easy layups and dunks. The Sixers will need Joel Embiid to take advantage of Robert Williams and Daniel Theis as this will most likely be the best matchup for the Sixers. The Sixers will also have to shoot it well from 3 to open up some driving lanes for Ben Simmons. The Sixers should try to create switches for Jimmy Butler so he can attack smaller defenders like Terry Rozier and Kyrie Irving as often as possible.
On the other side, I think Boston will do what they did in the playoffs last season and on opening night: try to attack our perimeter guys and collapse the defense. I still have nightmares about JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli being repeatedly beaten off the dribble by Celtic guards and wings in that series. I think they will use Horford more than usual to attack the Sixers PFs. It has been a significant mismatch on many occasions this season – most recently, LaMarcus Aldridge taking advantage of this.
Sixers win 110-105.