Celtics-Sixers preview: Don't be fooled by Philly

Celtics-Sixers preview: Don't be fooled by Philly

You hear a lot of talk these days about how the Celtics have the cushiest of cushy schedules to close out the season, a schedule that’s chock full of teams that have spent the bulk of this season getting their heads beaten in.
Of the Celtics’ 13 remaining games, nine are against teams at .500 or worse.
Still, for folks like me who have watched a lot of these bad basketball teams play this season, which includes way more Sixers basketball than any human should consume, there’s a narrative surrounding most of them that’s undeniable.
The way they are playing now is better – a lot better in the case of the Philadelphia 76ers – than their pitiful record might suggest.
While the Celtics will be favored to beat Philadelphia this afternoon (Vegas has the C’s as a five-point choice), would anyone outside of New England be surprised if the Sixers came away with the victory?
And despite Philly’s struggles, they play Boston about as tough as any team in the league.
The Celtics has won each of their three games this season against the Sixers, but only by a total of 13 points which speaks to how the games between these two has been closer than Boston certainly would want.
And unlike previous matchups, in which the Sixers seemed to be more about developing players than doing what was necessary to win, it’s clear that Philadelphia isn’t satisfied with just competing with teams anymore.
Dare we say it, the Sixers are (gulp)...trying to win games?
Philadelphia is coming off a 116-74 win over Dallas, one of the franchise’s most lopsided wins in nearly a decade.
And they’ve taken teams that - on paper - they are overwhelmingly overmatched against, down to the wire, evident by a 106-104 loss at Golden State earlier this month.
“You've got to give this team a lot of credit," Golden State’s Draymond Green said recently. "They're going to be really, really, really good. I mean, they're missing [Joel] Embiid and Ben Simmons and they're really on their way."
Embiid, whose season was shut down after just 31 games (he missed each of the two previous seasons entirely due to injuries), was a dominant force when healthy. He led the Sixers with 20.2 points, 7.8 rebounds and 2.5 blocked shots per game.
Ben Simmons, taken with the No. 1 overall pick by the Sixers last June, has not played in a single game this season due to injuries but, he too, is a player with promise.
Their absences have helped fellow Sixers rookie Dario Saric emerge not only as a key cog in Philadelphia’s growth, but also one of the front-runners for the NBA’s rookie of the year award, along with Embiid.
Still, as much improvement as we’ve seen in Philadelphia, the Celtics have shown they too are making progress towards being more than just one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference.
With Isaiah Thomas (knee) out, his absence has allowed others an opportunity to thrive.
Jae Crowder is coming off his seventh double-double of the season in Boston’s 98-95 win at Brooklyn on Friday. He had season-highs in scoring (24 points) and rebounding (12) as the Celtics (44-25) won their third straight with their East-leading 21st road victory of the season.
That means for the first time under fourth-year coach Brad Stevens, the Celtics will have a winning record away from the TD Garden.
When asked by CSN’s Abby Chin about the difference playing without Thomas, Crowder responded, “More shot opportunities; for real, seriously.”
This season, Crowder averages 9.8 field goal attempts per game. In the five games Boston has played without Thomas, his field goal attempts rises to 10.6.
More telling is how Crowder, a 13.5 points per game scorer this season, increases his scoring output to 16.2 points per game sans Thomas, while shooting 50.9 percent from the field.
With Thomas out, Crowder and several other Celtics will surely be looked upon to step their game up.
Despite Philly’s record, their play of late and the confidence they have with wins in two of their past three games, makes today’s matchup a game that Boston should win, but it will not be easy.


Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

Celtics continue comeback narrative with win vs. Hawks

The Boston Celtics trail by double digits. The Celtics rally to make it relatively close by halftime. Boston continues to gain ground in the third, pull it out in the fourth.

Rinse. Recycle. Repeat.

That has been the Celtics’ mantra this season, with the latest chapter in their comeback narrative being a 110-99 win at Atlanta.

“We need to put an emphasis on playing with space and getting the ball to the other side of the floor,” said Celtics coach Brad Stevens. “It just stuck too much early on. We were staring at some post-ups that if we got it to the other side, maybe you could take advantage of.”


Boston (15-2) fell behind by as many as 16 points against the Hawks (3-13), the second straight game the Celtics have rallied from a double-digit deficit.

In Boston’s 92-88 win over Golden State on Thursday, the Celtics fell behind by as many as 17 before rallying for their most impressive win of the season.

That said, it still shouldn’t take away from what happened on Saturday against an Atlanta team that despite their record, has shown signs of playing better in their recent games.

Players are aware of the penchant they’ve shown thus far for falling behind only to mount a furious comeback for the win.

“We don’t try to (go down early),” said Kyrie Irving following Saturday’s win which extended their winning streak to 15 straight which is the fifth-longest streak in franchise history. “Some teams, they go on runs and whether that be us giving up some easy ones or giving up some turnovers or doing things we can correct. When we do correct them, it turns into a different game.”

And that is what makes this stretch of play so impressive.

The Celtics have not played a full game; instead they have had stretches of good play that have often masked their mistakes early in the game.

That’s why head coach Brad Stevens, obviously pleased with the team’s success, knows as well as anyone that his team has to become more consistent in their play if they are to get the most out of these wins and continue to build off of them and achieve their ultimate goal – getting back to the NBA Finals.

“We’re going to keep playing,” Stevens said. “But the biggest thing is, we can’t keep digging these holes.”


Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

Stars, studs and duds: No lack of confidence for Brown

When it comes to the top backcourts in the NBA, you seldom hear about Kyrie Irving and Jaylen Brown.

That may soon be changing if they have more games like the one they delivered on Saturday as Boston put together a solid second half to pull away from the Atlanta Hawks, 110-99.

Irving had a game-high 30 points which was his second game with at least 30 points scored – both against Atlanta.


And Brown, who had a strong 22-point performance in Boston’s win over Golden State on Thursday, was even better against the Hawks in tallying a career-high 27 points.

We all know about Irving who has established himself as one of the NBA’s top guards.

But is Brown on the way?

One thing Brown won’t have to develop going forward is, confidence.

He has long maintained that he believes he’ll be among the best in the league. It’s just a matter of him performing at a high level at both ends of the floor, consistently.

“I’ve always had that confidence, I can play with the best in the world,” Brown told NBC Sports Boston’s Abby Chin following the win over Atlanta which extended Boston’s winning streak to 15 in a row. “It’s just a matter of coming out, doing it. My teammates found me tonight. We had a good team win tonight.”

Here are the Stars, Studs and Duds from Boston’s 110-99 win at Atlanta which extended the Celtics’ winning streak to 15 in a row which is the fifth-longest winning streak in franchise history.



Jaylen Brown

Back in his home state of Georgia, Jaylen Brown delivered another monster game for the Celtics by scoring a career-high 27 points on 10-for-13 shooting with four 3-pointers.

Kyrie Irving

Irving had his most efficient game this season for the Celtics, tallying 30 points on 10-for-12 shooting to go with four rebounds and five assists.

Dennis Schroder

Atlanta’s best scorer delivering a strong 23-point, 9-assist performance for the Hawks.



Jayson Tatum

He only had 14 points, but they all came in the third quarter and they included a few crowd-quieting dunks.

John Collins

He came into the league with the reputation of being a high motor player, and he has not disappointed. His hustle and energy led to him tallying 18 points and seven rebounds.

Marcus Morris

When the offense struggled mightily in the first half, it was Morris’ scoring that kept them within striking distance. He finished with 14 points, 10 of which came in the second quarter.

Kent Bazemore

He was Atlanta’s number two scoring option most of the night, and finished with 19 points.



Boston’s first quarter defense

The Celtics can’t keep digging themselves these early holes, expecting they will turn it on and find a way to climb out of them. The Hawks led 35-20, fueled in large part by shooting 64.7 percent (11-for-17) in addition to out-rebounding Boston 8-6.