Celtics/Sixers Playoff Preview: What To Look For


Celtics/Sixers Playoff Preview

It’s not just Monday.  It’s Monday after arguably the most devastating playoff collapse in Boston Bruins history.  We are all feeling some sort of mixture of disbelief, shock, malaise, and don’t have much time to process last night’s events as we now embark on a best-of-seven series against the Philadelphia 76ers.  

Here, we’ll take a look at 5 things to look forward to as this series begins and Boston fans move on from hockey season.

5. Celtics Vs. Sixers History

No teams have met more in the NBA postseason than the Celtics and the Sixers.  This matchup is a beacon of NBA history; going back to Dolph Schayes in the 1950s, Wilt vs. Bill Russell in the 60s, Bird vs. Dr. J in the 80s, Iverson vs. Pierce in the early 00s, we could go on.  

These teams have met 463 times, with the Celtics winning 267 of them, to the Sixers 196.  In recent history, the Celtics defeated the Sixers in seven games in the 2012 Eastern Semis and in five games in the 2018 Eastern Semis.

4. Other Sixers Stepping Up

It’s hard to think of a max-contract player who has faced less scrutiny than Tobias Harris.  After signing a five-year max deal in 2019, Harris has, at times, disappeared when the team has needed him most.  This season, Harris is averaging a career-high .602 true shooting %, albeit his points per game output of 14.7 is his lowest since his age-23 season.

Tyrese Maxey will be another big factor in this series, but Harris will need to step up especially if Joel Embiid misses any time.  Filling in for Joel Embiid, we could expect to see a healthy dose of Paul Reed, the Sixers 6’9 backup center drafted in the second round in 2020.  Reed has a slight frame, listed at 210 pounds, but he was the only player in the NBA this year to rank in the top 25 in steals and blocks per 100 possessions.

3. James Harden’s Playmaking

He’s not the same guy who won MVP in 2018 as one of the best offensive talents the game has ever seen, but make no mistake, James Harden is still a star player who can leverage his surgical playmaking ability (lead the league in assists this year with 10.7 per game) to wreak havoc on defenses.  

While he’s getting to the free throw line less than ever (6.1 FTA per 36 minutes, his lowest since his second season in OKC, where he averaged 5.6); he still has the ability and veteran savvy to put referees in a predicament and get himself to the charity stripe.  

This version of Harden will be tasked with carrying a burden offensively, especially if Embiid is to miss time.  He’ll have to deal with an onslaught of Celtics wing defenders, but he can and will make life hard for Boston, and the Celtics cannot underestimate his ability.

Courtesy of NBC Sports Boston YouTube Channel

2. Jayson Tatum Decision Making

Both things can be true here — (1) the Celtics are lucky to have a player of Tatum’s caliber; he’s arguably their best player since Larry Bird and oozing with potential with his best years ahead of him.  And (2) he can be his own worst enemy at times and hurts the team with his shot selection and hero-mode basketball style.

As a max-contract player and first-team All-NBA talent, Tatum should be able to handle the criticism that comes his way.  We need to see Tatum play his best ball right now, especially with Joel Embiid injured.  That means setting the tone early and often, taking smart shots (not everything needs to be a step-back three), and not letting the team playing down to their level of competition.  

1. Joel Embiid’s Availability

There’s no question that the biggest factor in this series will be the health of the soon-to-be first-time MVP, Joel Embiid.  Embiid suffered a sprained LCL in his right knee during game 3 of the Sixers first-round matchup with the Brooklyn Nets.  Doubtful for game 1, there seems to be an air of mystery surrounding the true nature and depth of Embiids injury before this series begins.  

Embiid has been plagued by injury for Philadelphia in recent memory, breaking an orbital bone last season that caused him to miss two games and tearing his meniscus in 2021.  When playing, Embiid has been a complete monster on both ends of the floor, as he led the league in points per game this season (33.1) while setting a career-high in true shooting percentage (.655).  

A missing, or even injured, Joel Embiid could be disastrous for the Sixers chances, but we’ve seen Boston play down to their competition before.

Celtics Schedule For Round 2

Game 1: Monday, May 1, 7:30 p.m., TD Garden, Boston (TNT)

Game 2: Wednesday, May 3, 8 p.m., TD Garden, Boston (TNT)

Game 3: Friday, May 5, 7:30 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, Philly (ESPN)

Game 4: Sunday, May 7, 3:30 p.m., Wells Fargo Center, Philly (ESPN)

Game 5*: Tuesday, May 9, TBD, TD Garden, Boston (TNT)

Game 6*: Thursday, May 11, TBD, Wells Fargo Center, Philly (ESPN)

Game 7*: Sunday, May 14, TBD, TD Garden, Boston (TBD)