BOSTON – Joel Embiid is Philadelphia’s starting center.
And when it comes to the team’s play, he wants to be the center of attention.
Well big fella, you’ll get your wish tonight as the Boston Celtics (34-11) go for the season sweep against the Philadelphia.
But for the Sixers (20-20) to win in Boston for the first time since 2014, they’ll have to do it without J.J. Redick (out with left fibula injury) who had a game-high 22 points when the Celtics and Sixers played last week in London.
That means Embiid will have the ball in his hands quite a bit, as Philly tries to make up for the absence of Redick who is one of the best long-range shooters in the NBA.
“We know they’ll go more inside to (Ben) Simmons and (Joel) Embiid,” said Celtics forward/center Daniel Theis. “It’s gonna be a team job to … focus on defense again.”
When the two met last week in London, defense was an afterthought for Boston in the first half, struggles that allowed Philadelphia to pull ahead by as many as 22 points before the Celtics regrouped, re-focused and played with a re-energized vigor in the second half before pulling away for a 114-103 win.
Doing so tonight will once again require them to limit the impact of Embiid who will have the offense flow more through him, something that did not happen in the early goings of last week’s game, something Embiid didn’t mince his words about following the loss.
“I started off really frustrated by the way everything was set up,” Embiid said following the loss in London. “And if I’m not having fun … kick someone’s ass or talking trash, if I’m not doing that, usually I have bad games.”
Embiid had a double-double of 15 points, 10 rebounds and five assists against the Celtics, but he shot just 6-for-17 from the field and turned the ball over four times.
“I didn’t do a good job of letting my teammates find me,” Embiid said at the time.
While Embiid believes his struggles in London had more to do with what he didn’t do rather than what the Celtics did, the Celtics have done a good job defensively on Embiid all season.
In the two games Embiid has played against the Celtics this season, he is averaging 13.0 points while shooting just 30.3 percent from the field. Both serve as Embiid’s lowest scoring average and shooting percentage against teams he faced more than once this season.
And his career average of 16.3 points per game against Boston is his lowest career scoring average against any team that he has played against at least three times.
One of the keys to the Celtics defensively has been Aron Baynes, whose 94.9 defensive rating is tops among all NBA players who log at least 18 minutes of action per game.
Baynes has size, strength and has better lateral quickness than one would expect for a 6-foot-10, 260-pound center.
But preparation is also key for his success defensively.
“We have great coaches here and watch so much film,” Baynes told NBC Sports Boston. “They tell you their tendencies, whatever you need to do for the upcoming game, they put you in great position. As long as you stay within the system, you’re usually in a pretty good spot. That’s what I try and do.”