Sunday, October 1 2023

The Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics will begin the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night at the TD Garden from Boston and now is a bit of a moment of truth for the Sixers. They have fallen in the semifinals in four of the past five seasons and this is another opportunity to break through.

The Sixers have not played a game since April 22 when they finished off a sweep of the Brooklyn Nets while the Celtics finished off the Atlanta Hawks in six games. The whole rest vs. rhythm aspect is going to be one to watch in Game 1 considering the Celtics have stayed in rhythm while playing games while the Sixers have been waiting around.

In this preview edition, it’s time to break down each position and see who has the edge. From the starters down to the bench unit, it’s time to examine and give the advantage to either side.

Point guard: James Harden vs. Marcus Smart

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Harden produced a bit of a mixed bag in Round 1 against Brooklyn. His numbers were very good at 17.3 points, 8.8 assists, and 5.5 rebounds and he did shoot 42.4% from deep. However, he shot only 24% on shots at the rim and he shot 26.5% on 2-pointers overall in the series. That isn’t going to cut it against Boston.

Smart is a wild card for the Celtics. He can make a difference on offense when his shot is on, but he is mostly out there for his defensive work. He is an irritant on that end of the floor and he will bother Harden if he isn’t going to be efficient with his shot. Either way, the advantage at this position goes to Philadelphia because The Beard is an elite playmaker.

Advantage: Sixers

Shooting guard: Tyrese Maxey vs. Derrick White

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In four matchups with the Celtics during the season, Maxey only averaged 10.0 points and shot 35.4% from the floor and 21.4% from deep. Those are way off from his regular season numbers of 20.3 points on 48.1% shooting and 43.4% from deep so he is going to have to find a way to overcome that in this series.

White was terrific in Round 1 against the Hawks averaging 17.3 points and he shot 45.7% from deep. Philadelphia is going to have to find a way to slow him down while also getting Maxey going. Overall, Maxey is the better player, but White and the Celtics have found a way to neutralize him during the four regular season matchups.

Advantage: Sixers

Small forward: Tobias Harris vs. Jaylen Brown

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Harris is going to have to be really effective on the defensive end in this series. Brown is a legitimate one-one-scorer who has continued to improve in that aspect of his game to make him even tougher to defend out on the floor. Harris was terrific defensively, and offensively, in Round 1 against the Nets and he has to be able to do it again in this series.

Brown averaged 26.7 points in Round 1 against the Hawks and he shot 51.5% from deep. He is so tough to defend and he is also a very good defender in his own right on the other end of the floor. How the Sixers can match up with Brown is going to be a big difference in this series.

Advantage: Celtics

Power forward: PJ Tucker vs. Jayson Tatum

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Tucker was brought to Philadelphia for moments like this one. He is going to run around, go get after every loose ball, and he will be assigned to both Tatum and Brown on the defensive end in this series while also having to knock down a corner triple. This is a series where he will be very important.

With that being said, Tatum is an elite scorer and a guy who can provide production everywhere. He averaged 27.2 points, 10.0 rebounds, 5.3 assists, and 1.2 blocks in Round 1 against the Hawks and he is a proven playoff performer. The advantage here is obvious.

Advantage: Celtics

Center: Joel Embiid vs. Al Horford

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This one is going to swing in Philadelphia’s way regardless of Embiid’s injury. One has to expect that the big fella will be out there on Monday for Game 1. He is most likely not going to be anywhere near 100%, but he can still impact the game with his defensive presence and he can still knock down jumpers. Considering he will have to wear a brace, his lack of mobility will be something to watch.

Horford has a knack for knocking down big shots. He knocked down some big triples in a comeback win over the Sixers on Feb. 25 on the road. He will give Embiid some trouble, but either way, Philadelphia has the advantage here.

Advantage: Sixers

Bench unit

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This is where things get lopsided. The Celtics have the 6th Man of the Year in Malcolm Brogdon who is a reliable scorer off the bench and he’s a knockdown 3-point shooter. They also can rely on the likes of Grant Williams, Robert Williams III, Sam Hauser, Luke Kornet, and even Blake Griffin has proven productive in smaller minutes.

For the Sixers, they will need De’Anthoy Melton and Jalen McDaniels to make a big impact on the defensive end. They are both long, athletic, and quick defenders who should be able to make some type of difference on defense. As for Georges Niang, he will have to be knocking down his 3-pointers at a high clip or else it will be tough to justify playing him due to his defensive issues. Paul Reed figures to be the backup center again and give the Sixers some good minutes.

Advantage: Celtics

Story originally appeared on Sixers Wire

Source: Yahoo Sports


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