The day has finally arrived. Despite the Celtics winning 16 of the last 18 meetings, and if you include the playoffs that number balloons to 20 of the last 23, every time these two teams play there’s always a little extra spice involved. Most of that is due to Sixers fans delusion that they are actually as good despite history and their own players telling a different story but I digress. As you recall they got worked on Opening night, and it was then where we had Embiid come out and admit what we all already knew
But you see the beauty of this matchup is the Sixers continue to try and do all they can to finally get past the Celtics. Back in November when they traded for Jimmy Butler, the internet immediately crowned them the best team in the East and without a doubt ahead of the Celtics. Sixers fans relied on the idea that we had never faced them with a Big 3 like this so now it was time for the Sixers to finally win. Sadly, this new and improved way better Sixers team lost again on Christmas and Joel Embiid had to once again come out and tell us what we already knew
Which brings us to tonight. Now we have another new Sixers team after their acquisitions at the trade deadline. In familiar fashion the internet and Sixers fans have been screaming at the top of their lungs that this is the best team in the East and the group that will represent the East in the Finals. Sounds a little familiar. Mind you it’s February, but this is what happens every time this team makes a move. Through 2 games they’ve looked great, with a win over the Nuggets and a blowout win over the Lakers, there’s no doubt they are riding a ton of momentum into tonight’s game which begs the question
Is tonight the biggest game in Process history?
Think about it. As well as they have been playing, as complete as they’ve looked in this small sample with their new roster, whether they want to admit it to themselves or not, the Celtics are their boogeyman. If you look at history, every team with title hopes has that one hurdle they have to get through. The early Pistons had the Bulls, the Celtics during their run had the Pistons, then LeBron had the Celtics etc etc. There is no denying that when it comes to this matchup the Sixers have not been able to get over the hump against the Boston, and now that their Process is complete and they are the best they’ve ever been, how can you be pumped up as much as they have been over the last week and lose to a shorthanded Celtics team that is currently dealing with a bunch of drama?
As of now the Sixers are -6 favorites, they’re at home, and the Celts are without Kyrie and Aron Baynes who are two of their most important players. This is the best shot the Sixers have ever head in this head to head matchup to pull this off. If this new look Sixers team can’t even win this game, what does that say about the Process? There are big stakes on the line tonight as well, not just bragging rights. If the Celts pull out this win tonight they will win the season H2H series which could very well determine which of these teams has homecourt in the first round come Spring. So yeah it’s a regular season game in February, but there’s definitely more on the line than your regular pre All Star break regular season game. It’s big for the Celtics as an opportunity to right their ship after a couple disastrous home losses and reassert themselves, and I don’t really want to hear excuses from fellow Celtics fans either. This is a huge game for both sides, we can openly admit that.
For the Celtics to walk away victorious it comes down to a few things for me
1. Horford continues to shut down Joel Embiid and does not get into foul trouble. Over the last 7 games being matched up with Embiid, Horford has held him to just 28-63 shooting and has shown that his ability to space the floor has a huge impact on limiting Embiid defensively. With no Baynes to back him up, Horford is going to have to be very disciplined on that end and not fall for the patented Embiid pump fakes.
2. Don’t be lazy and stay with JJ Redick through screens. This may be the number 1 thing on my list when I really think about it. Whether it’s Smart or Jaylen or Hayward this team has to stay with Redick at all times. The Sixers do a great job of running him off screens and getting him open looks and this is a guy with 55 points over his last two games while going 9-13 from deep. Limit his outside shooting and you give yourself a great chance. The second you get lazy or go under a screen instead of fighting through it, you’re cooked.
3. Be composed. The Philly crowd is going to be nuts, and if you start to play careless and turn the ball over you’re going to get blown out. This team wants to get the ball into the open court where they can utilize guys like Simmons and Butler on the break, so making sure you don’t let the crowd impact your play when things go south is going to be huge.
4. Collective rebounding will be very important. The Sixers are 6th in the NBA in rebounding and 8th in second chance points. What the Celts can’t allow is offensive rebounds that will ultimately lead to dagger threes. We’ve seen it before, we know that’s what happens, so every single member of this team has to hit the glass. Period.
5. Get into the paint. Despite having Embiid, the Sixers rank 20th in points in the paint. This is why even without Kyrie, everyone on this team has to be aggressive. All that settling bullshit we saw against the Clippers cannot happen. Force the Sixers to reach into their depth. If it were me, I would play a majority of my possessions through Horford in the post and just have everyone keep cutting time and time again. There is opportunity there if the Celts wake up and realize it.
6. Above all else, guard the three point line. It’s more than staying with Redick, this team needs to get back to being the same team we saw all year on the perimeter. You keep the Sixers around 10 or under 3PM, you give yourself a great chance.
We’ll learn a lot about both teams after tonight’s battle and what it could potentially mean if these two ever go match up in another playoff series. Regular season games don’t get much bigger than this, it’s going to be an absolute bloodbath. I can’t wait.