NBA Playoffs Round 2 Series Preview: Philadelphia 76ers vs. Boston Celtics

Philadelphia is 4.5 point favorites on the road in Game 1 against the Boston Celtics.

Game 1 Odds
Philadelphia at Boston
Time: 7 PM CT (TNT)
Spread: PHI -4.5
Total: 205

Odds c/o 5dimes

The Philadelphia 76ers ousted the Miami Heat in five games, while the Boston Celtics just closed the Milwaukee Bucks in a Game 7 at home. Now Philly travels to face the Celtics at TD Garden in Game 1 of the second round.

The Sixers closed the regular season with 15-straight wins, and Philly will be 4.5-point favorites in the series opener tonight. The over/under is set at 205 points according to NBA oddsmakers at bookmaker 5dimes.

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Philadelphia received a big injection literally when 7-foot-2 center Joel Embiid was cleared to play while wearing a protective mask to protect his broken orbital bone. Embiid made the All-Star team this year in his second pro season, and while he was not joined by rookie teammate Ben Simmons, he likely will be next season. The Sixers have one of the most unique and best-functioning tandems, even if Simmons’ long-term future is not to remain at point guard. Embiid is a game-changer on both ends of the court, and Simmons has the court vision to excel at any position. Throw in a full offseason for No. 1 overall pick Markelle Fultz, and the Sixers might even be scarier next season. For now, the focus has to remain on beating a Celtics team that has been remarkably tough despite lacking its leader Kyrie Irving.

The difference for Boston has been that backup 1 Terry Rozier has more or less picked up where Irving left off, and he is far better than most may have realized before this postseason began. Perhaps they should have picked up on things sooner because Boston has a strong three-guard rotation with Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum both getting better with each passing game. Tatum is just a rookie but has left his footprint on the playoffs, and Al Horford is still playing the best basketball of his career. This series is likely matched a little closer than seems superficial, if only because at least “half” of how good Philly is, is part of the “hype machine.” The hype is justified, but are the Sixers ready to take on a Boston team that is coached by one of the defensive masterminds in the game in Brad Stevens? Let us delve into the positional breakdown and see which club has the edge in this series when it is all said and done.

Backcourt: Terry Rozier/Jaylen Brown vs. Ben Simmons/J.J. Redick

As mentioned, Rozier has been incredible for Boston. Jaylen Brown has been quieter but nearly as impressive. This backcourt might be without its typical starter in Kyrie Irving, but Boston has rallied to produce the missing points Irving leaves on the bench. Considering starting wing Gordon Hayward is also out, the Celtics are really going with two starters that will be demoted back to the bench by next season. Or will they? Boston might be on the verge of finding its young talents are ready now, which would change the outlook on whether Boston stays patient with Hayward and his rehabilitation. There will inevitably be even a log jam upon his return. But for now, Boston chugs on with an underrated backcourt that must find some semblance of an answer for likely Rookie of the Year Ben Simmons.

Simmons, for starters, is a 6’10” point guard at this juncture of his career. The sheer advantage of being roughly a half-foot taller than Rozier clearly gives him a tremendous advantage, but Boston also likely will not choose to put Rozier on Simmons. Look for Brown or Jayson Tatum to draw the defensive assignment (likely Brown) with Marcus Smart receiving plenty of minutes off the bench sheerly to matchup with Simmons. The C’s have the one-on-one defenders to put on Simmons, but most teams have been unable to keep him from hitting double-digit assists on a nightly basis with so many ready teammates to pass the rock to. J.J. Redick is a better defender than given credit for and is still playing the best basketball of his career into his mid-30s. While Boston’s backcourt is better than most credit it for, Philly’s packs more punch with Simmons able to impact the game in so many ways.

Advantage: Sixers

Frontcourt: Jayson Tatum/Al Horford/Aron Brynes vs. Robert Covington/Dario Saric/Joel Embiid

Tatum has put together an impressive rookie season, albeit one in the shadows of a loaded draft class, and he will have to be more aggressive for the duration of this series because Boston needs his scoring prowess. Horford is a functional high post whose play is always solid and has been borderline on the spectacular side in reinventing his role this season for Boston. Aron Baynes is a brut, and probably will be abused by Embiid simply because he lacks the natural gifts required to go toe-to-toe with a talent like Embiid. Robert Covington basically cancels out Tatum, as one of the better “three and D” wing players that no one really talks about. Dario Saric has been inconsistent, but when he is at his best he serves as a highly functional No. 3 option for the Sixers within their offense. He is also a deft passer and creates a lot of looks for Embiid in making the “extra pass.” Philly has great chemistry and simply has more talent in its frontcourt just on the basis of the fact that Embiid is the only “Franchise player” of these six starters.

Advantage: Sixers

Benches:

Boston’s bench is weakened by the fact two of its key performers are now starting. Greg Monroe probably will not factor massively into this series due to his defensive limitations, but then again, he also could come off the bench for 20. Moose is pretty unpredictable. The C’s also use Marcus Morris a lot, and he will probably get a lot of burn in this series because he is a better matchup on Saric than Horford and Big Al will be needed on Embiid most likely. That leaves Baynes likely to see a decrease in minutes in this series with Morris usurping the difference.

Philly is still trying to decide if it wants to really unleash Markelle Fultz or keep his prodigious talent under wraps until the 2018-19 season. He is barely seeing the court. Philly has gotten great play out of both Ersan Ilyasova and Marco Belinelli this postseason, and both players are experienced shooters who can make a difference, especially when they’re hot. T.J. McConnell is pure grit and determination to back up both Redick and Simmons. The Sixers just have more useful players coming in the second unit, and it is largely due to the two key injuries to Hayward and Irving that the Celtics sustained over the course of this season.

Advantage: Sixers

The Bottom Line:

With a better frontcourt and a better backcourt, all that was really up for grabs was the bench, but the Sixers are deeper too, with a healthier roster and productive players that were tested in the opening round. Initially, it seemed like a Sixers in 6 or 7 predictions were not far off, but after systematically evaluating the fact that Philadelphia outclasses Boston at nearly every position on the court, in both the first and second units, we have no choice but to call this a sweep.

Prediction: Sixers in 4

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