An Eastern Conference rivalry is renewed in an Atlantic Division battle, with the Boston Celtics taking on the Philadelphia 76ers in the opening round of the post-season.
Can Jayson Tatum continue his impressive regular season and turn it into playoff success? Will Joel Embiid dominate as the focal point for Philly?
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- Game 1 - Tuesday, August 18 @ 4:00 a.m.
- Game 2 - Thursday, August 20 @ 4:00 a.m.
- Game 3 - Saturday, August 22 @ 4:00 a.m.
- Game 4 - Sunday, August 23 @ 10:30 p.m.
- Game 5 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 6 (if necessary) - TBD
- Game 7 (if necessary) - TBD
Result: 76ers won 3-1
Best game: Dec. 13, 2019 - 76ers 115, Celtics 109
Best performance: Joel Embiid (Dec 13, 2019) - 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists
The 76ers won the first three meetings of the season, beginning with their season opener which saw all five starters score 15+ points, led by 24 from Ben Simmons - in what looked like the perfect start for Philly's new jumbo-sized starting lineup.
Their second meeting of the season belonged to Joel Embiid, who after comments from legends Shaquille O'Neal and Charles Barkley regarding his lack of assertiveness, turned in one of his best performances of the season, on the road.
He poured in 38 points, 13 rebounds, and six assists, including 16 in the fourth quarter and a game-clinching block on Daniel Theis.
Embiid missed the third matchup with injury, but Josh Richardson had the hot hand, scoring 29 points in a back-and-forth battle with Kemba Walker, who scored 26 points for the Celtics.
The Celtics' lone win of the season against the 76ers came in one of Embiid's worst games of the season, going 1-of-11 from the field, with nine of his 11 points coming at the free-throw line Boston's young wing duo took over the game, with Jaylen Brown finishing with 32 points and nine rebounds. Jayson Tatum took over down the stretch, finishing with 25 points in the win.
Key Storyline: Can Joel Embiid dominate in Ben Simmons' absence?
The 76ers enter the 2020 post-season without answers to many of the questions posed in pre-season, but one things for sure, their playoff chances hinge on which version of Embiid shows up.
With Ben Simmons likely to miss the remainder of the season with a dislocated left kneecap, Philly will look to pound the ball inside with Embiid and Al Horford to maximise their strengths against perhaps Boston's biggest weakness.
Embiid will be guarded by either Enes Kanter or Daniel Theis, two matchups he should easily dominate, but expect the Celtics to send plenty of help and double teams in his direction to get the ball out of his hands and limit his rhythm. In the bubble, the All-Star big man showed signs of improvement passing out of double teams to find shooters, while still being able to use his size and skill around the basket to put up big numbers, averaging 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in their first four seeding games.
"I've just gotta keep on getting better, because I know that every single game I'm going to get doubled, so I've gotta just figure that out to be the offense and create shots for my teammates," he said after their win over the San Antonio Spurs.
"If I'm open and I've got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates."
Three players to watch:
Jayson Tatum looks to have taken the leap to superstardom this season, emerging as Boston's no.1 option, but the 22-year-old had his struggles against the 76ers this season, thanks largely to the defensive presence of Ben Simmons.
Tatum averaged 18.6 points per 36 minutes on 32.3% shooting in their four games this season with Simmons on the court. Without Simmons in his path, Tatum's numbers exploded to 34.9 points per 36 minutes on 60% shooting!
A combination of Tobias Harris, Josh Richardson, and Matisse Thybulle will likely take turns trying to slow down the Celtics star. If they can't replicate Simmons' defensive presence against Tatum, expect some big scoring nights from the All-Star swingman.
If Joel Embiid is the no.1 guy for Philly in this series, Tobias Harris isn't far behind. He's proved to be a capable ball-handler and creator from the perimeter, but without Simmons pushing the ball and finding him on the perimeter for east transition looks, Harris will need to up his production in the half-court and create more offence for himself.
The good news for 76ers fans - Harris has been ballin' since arriving in Orlando, averaging 21.7 points per game on 46.5% shooting from the field and 41.2% from three, compared his 19.6 points per game on 46.9% from the field and 36.4% from three prior to the season hiatus.
Playing off Embiid, Harris needs to be more aggressive getting to the rim and to the free-throw line in order to put the Celtics defence under pressure, instead of settling for jumpers.
"That's a huge point of emphasis to be more efficient and being more effective, getting to the free-throw line," Harris said. "I'm on a day-to-day basis watching film and evaluating and seeing what's being called in ways to get to the free-throw line. I am a guy who heavily focuses on making shots and sometimes that's to a fault."
Can he step up to be the 76ers no.2 option every night in the playoffs?
After years of missing the post-season with the Charlotte Hornets, this is why Walker made the move to Boston, to play meaningful basketball and this is a series he can make the difference.
Walker's ability to navigate the pick-and-roll and find cutting wings like Tatum, Brown and Gordon Hayward, will be crucial in breaking down the 76ers lengthy defence. The Celtics offence flows much easier when Walker is locked in. This season they posted an offensive rating of 115.2 this season with Walker on the court and fell to 108.9 when he was on the bench.
Philly still has plenty of defenders to throw at Walker, in Richardson and Thybulle, but having shaken off a knee injury, the four-time All-Star looks ready to make it happen for the Celtics on the big stage.
Picks and Predictions
Benyam Kidane: Celtics in six
Yash Matange: Celtics in six
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