The Boston Celtics enter the 2020 playoff bubble at 48-24 and the third seed in the Eastern Conference. The series with Philadelphia begins Monday at 6:30 pm, EST. The Sixers enter the playoffs as the 6-seed, but hold a commanding advantage on the glass due to size and physicality. In a league going smaller by the month, the 76ers have tried to “build for the playoffs”.
“If you’re looking at chemistry the Celtics have it in spades, while the Sixers are just trying to stay above water” – Abby Chin Celtics Sideline Reporter
“Where does that internal energy come from?” The Celtics reporters wonder about the 76ers. Energy and chemistry is at the heart of the confidence felt in Boston around this first-round matchup.
Walker has enjoyed his most efficient season. At 57.2% True Shooting, Walker is the key, offensively, for a matchup versus Philadelphia. Brett Brown has repeatedly mentioned “live-ball guards” as being his team’s biggest nightmare defensively. Walker has had big games versus the Sixers in the past, but the length and size of Philadelphia limited his impact in 2020.
Walker scored 22.4 points per game against Philly but shot just 37% to generate those numbers. Talented defensive rookie Matisse Thybulle often guarded him.
Tatum will have the most significant opportunity in this series. In four games this season versus Philadelphia, he was held to 33% shooting while guarded primarily by Ben Simmons. With Simmons out with a Patella injury, Tatum can carry the Celtics’ offense. Expect Tatum to significantly improve upon the 19 points per game he averaged against Philadelphia this season.
Brown struggled from three in the games versus Philadelphia, shooting just 24%. He averaged 14 points per contest on just 41% shooting. On paper, Brown should be able to attack Tobias Harris and get downhill towards the rim. If he can get into the heart of the defense and draw fouls, he has a chance to be the breaking point in the Celtics’ attack.
Hayward continues the trend of top Celtics players who struggled in games versus Philadelphia. He scored just 14 points per game on 40% shooting. Even more surprising, perhaps, is Hayward’s 20% shooting on only 2.5 attempts per game from three. Hayward will have opportunities in this series, as he is not an obvious matchup for any of the 76ers players.
The Celtics will almost certainly throw double-teams at Joel Embiid every time he touches the ball. But initially, Theis will likely be called on to mount the initial defense while the double comes. Theis helped limit Embiid to 1-11 shooting in their last contest in February. He will not get many looks on the offensive end unless the Sixers go into scramble mode and leave him wide open at the rim. Still, his ability to keep Embiid from playing at god-tier level will be vital to the series.
The Sixers won the regular season series versus Boston, 3-1. Among the basic stats, one key stood out. Philadelphia outrebounded Boston an average of 50.5-38.5. “One shot defense” will be massive, according to Philadelphia Head Coach Brett Brown.