After a tough seven-game series with the Milwaukee Bucks, the Boston Celtics will now go on to face the Philadelphia 76ers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. The Boston and Philadelphia rivalry will be renewed as two of the most promising teams in the NBA meet for a long-anticipated seven-game series.
Key Philadelphia players to watch for:
J.J. Reddick, SG
The Sixers acquired Redick in the off-season on a massive one-year rental deal, and it has certainly paid off. Being one of the only players on the team with any type of playoff experience beyond this post-season, he will be a key factor both on and off the court. With the Celtics focusing on Joel Embid and Ben Simmons down-low, the Sixers will rely on their plethora of three-point shooters led by Redick to score often from beyond the arc
Robert Covington, SF
It would be easy to pick Joel Embid and Ben Simmons, but that would make this too easy. Covington is a hit-or-miss play who could easily catch fire, but just as easily be the coldest player on the floor. If Covington gets hot along with Redick, there may be no answer for this 76ers team. He will also be relied on to possibly guard Jayson Tatum, who even as a rookie, may be one of the Celtics top scoring options in this series
Key Boston players to watch for:
Al Horford, PF/C
This may seem like the obvious answer, but Horford has a huge job in this series. Being the best matchup to defend both Ben Simmons and Joel Embid leaves Brad Stevens and the Celtics with a tough coaching decision. While he will have to be excellent on defense, he will have to be just as good on offense if Boston wants to match this high-powered Philly offense.
Marcus Smart, SG
For the Celtics, this series is all about defense. Deciding where to match-up Marcus Smart may be one of Stevens’ biggest challenge yet. Despite Simmons being one of the Sixers’ best scorers, he is also six inches taller than Marcus and is fantastic in the paint. Smart has guarded many players even taller than Simmons, but he will have to be at the top of his game if he wants to slow down the almost-seven foot point guard.
What to watch for:
Will Joel Embid be back to normal?
After a facial fractured caused Embid to miss the final weeks of the regular season, Embid came back mid-series in the first round. He was only a shell of himself, however, as he shot just 42% and had a total of fifteen turnovers. If Embid continues to struggle, although unlikely, look for Boston to jump out to an early lead in the series.
How effective will Jaylen Brown be?
Jaylen Brown left game 7 of the first round with what is being diagnosed as a grade one hamstring strain. His status for game one is doubtful, and the Celtics are unsure when he will be cleared to play. The first question would be when will Jaylen come back. The second would be, when he comes back, will he be close to 100%? If Brown is ineffective, this will be a very tough series for Boston to win.
This may have been one of the toughest series to predict. I am a big believer in whoever has the biggest stars, wins the series. In this case, it is clearly Philadelphia. However, Boston had just escaped the first round in which their opponent clearly had the best player in the series in Giannis Antekukounmpo, who may be a top-five player in the league. If the Celtics can beat out Giannis, I believe they can beat out Embid and Simmons.
Although I believe in stars win series, I also believe playoff experience also helps win playoff series. Although Boston only returned four players from last season, all four of those players played a critical role in both game 7 this year against the Bucks, as well as last year against the Wizards. A majority of this Boston team has experience in playing in high pressure, big game situations. Philadelphia on the other hand, between Ben Simmons, Markelle Fultz, Dario Saric and Joel Embid, the most important game any of them may have ever played may have been in the sweet sixteen round of the NCAA tournament.
In this series, the lack of playoff experience trumps the star talent. Joel Embid and Ben Simmons have never dealt with a playoff crowd nearly as brutal as the TD Garden. No, this isn’t a Boston brag (although it could be), but rather Miami’s fan base not caring in the first round. Philadelphia 76 Ersan Ilyasova said it himself, “In Miami, the gym was half-empty. But when you go to Boston, you’ll feel it.”
Ultimately, the Sixers are in for something they’ve never seen before for the first two games in the Garden. Because Boston has home-court here, I give the edge to Boston. Celtics in 7.
Photo: NBC Sports