Game Preview: Celtics at 76ers
BOSTON – Two Atlantic Division rivals are going to spend this weekend together. The Celtics (10-8) and 76ers (10-8), which are tied in the standings, will meet at 7 p.m. tonight in Philadelphia and then at 7:30 p.m. Saturday night in Boston.
It is very rare for the NBA’s schedule makers to hand out home-and-home sets that will be played on consecutive days. This will be only the third such occasion for the C’s since they acquired Kevin Garnett back in 2007.
As rare as this situation may be, Doc Rivers has an affinity for it. He believes this particular home-and-home presents a great challenge for a Celtics team that is showing signs of growth.
“I do like it, especially in this stretch,” Rivers said of this weekend’s games. “Coming into it I think we’re starting to play a little bit better. We’ve struggled playing in Philly, so I love all of the bad stuff. That’s good, the way I look at it in my demented way. I think those are all good things.”
Rivers also says that the 76ers “must have great confidence” against Boston, and rightfully so. This particular Celtics team has never tasted victory against the Sixers. Philadelphia has won all three meetings with Boston this season, although two of those victories arrived in the preseason. The lone regular season game, played on Nov. 9 in TD Garden, was a 106-100 triumph for Philly.
Boston will need to perform much better at the defensive end if it wants to turn those fortunes around tonight. Four Sixers players scored at least 15 points on Nov. 9 and the team shot 48.8 percent overall. Evan Turner and Jrue Holiday led the way with 25 and 21 points apiece, respectively.
The most troubling part about those numbers is that Turner and Holiday accrued them while facing off against Boston’s only two reigning All-Stars. Turner outperformed Paul Pierce and Holiday outplayed Rajon Rondo.
You can bet that such facts have left a bad taste in the mouths of Pierce and Rondo. Luckily for them, they’ll have a couple of opportunities this weekend to restore order against the Sixers.
A Different Team
It must be pointed out that this Celtics team is very different from the one Philadelphia saw in early November. At that time, Courtney Lee and Jared Sullinger were in the starting lineup. Rivers has since replaced those two with Jason Terry and Brandon Bass.
Rivers ironically made that change the very next night after Philadelphia drastically outplayed the C’s on Nov. 9 in the Garden. The C’s have gone 8-5 since that move, including four wins in their past six games.
Rondo is the greatest passer in the NBA and he is electric on offense. Tonight, however, the Celtics need him to be a great defender.
Holiday is quickly becoming one of the best offensive weapons around. His great athleticism and improved shot have helped him to become an elite scorer. Holiday’s average of 18.2 points per game this season ranks sixth among all point guards.
Rondo couldn’t slow Holiday down on Nov. 9. Holiday scored 21 points and dished out 14 assists in the Sixers’ victory. Rondo and the Celtics can’t afford to have that happen again tonight.
Take Advantage of Their Bench
Philadelphia has a lot of talent in the starting lineup, but its bench is underwhelming. Nick Young, who is the Sixers’ only established scorer off the bench, is listed as a game-time decision due to a hyperextended toe on his left foot.
If Young doesn’t play tonight, Philadelphia may wind up starving for points. That’s what happened on Tuesday against Minnesota, when the Sixers shot just 42.2 percent from the field, scored just 88 points, and did not have a single reserve score more than six points.