Celtics

Celtics-76ers preview: Sweeping Sixers means limiting Joel Embiid

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Celtics-76ers preview: Sweeping Sixers means limiting Joel Embiid

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.”

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CELTICS TALK PODCAST: Smart returns, Kawhi comes to the Eastern Conference and Hayward checks in

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NBC Sports Boston Photo

CELTICS TALK PODCAST: Smart returns, Kawhi comes to the Eastern Conference and Hayward checks in

0:50 - Kyle Draper and A. Sherrod Blakely discuss the Celtics signing Marcus Smart to a 4-year, $52 million contract and what he means to the team.

6:02 - With the Toronto Raptors acquiring Kawhi Leonard in a trade including DeMar DeRozan the Eastern Conference has experienced a bit of a shake up. Sherrod and Kyle debate whether or not the Celtics remain the favorites in the East.

14:25 - Gordon Hayward joins Sherrod to discuss a variety of topics including how videos games helped him during his recovery, his health status, how important it was for the Celtics to re-sign Marcus Smart and how competitive the Eastern Conference will be this season.

20:23 - Kyle and Sherrod talk about Hayward's return and how he'll have to make adjustments after missing an entire season.

22:24 - With Carmelo Anthony being shipped to Atlanta in a trade, Kyle and Sherrod break down what the veteran forward can bring to the Hawks.

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Bean: Everything is turning up Celtics this week

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Flie Photo

Bean: Everything is turning up Celtics this week

There have been a lot of great days in Celtics history: The day they won their first title. The day they won their 17th title. The day they got the 76ers to draft Markelle Fultz. The day a brave fan first yelled at Ben Simmons to shoot a 3, coward. 

June 18, 2018 might not be on the same level as any of those, but damn, it was good. I really only needed to see two things happen this offseason: for the C's to keep restricted free agent Marcus Smart and for Kawhi Leonard to end up anywhere for Philadelphia. 

Check and check. What a day. 

Actually, I suppose the stars getting healthy would also be a biggie for the Celtics. 

What a day. 

Let's focus on the Kawhi thing. If he had gone to the 76ers and made friends with some of those goofballs -- enough that he'd want to re-sign at least -- the Celtics would be in trouble. Kyrie Irving could theoretically leave in free agency next summer, and a big three of Kawhi, Simmons and Embiid would likely trump a Kyrie-less Celtics roster longterm. 

But that's not going to happen. Kawhi is in Toronto, perhaps for a year before he goes to the Lakers. In the immediate future, the Raptors are no threat to the Celtics, or perhaps even the 76ers. Longterm, there's a good chance he won't even be in the Eastern Conference. 

So the Celtics' path to the NBA Finals remains clear. As long as everyone -- or really even mostly everyone -- is healthy, they'll get there easily. 

A big part of that will be due to them being the deepest team in the conference, a status that should remain with Marcus Smart banging out a four-year deal with the Celtics for $52 million. (He officially signed on June 19, yes, but the two sides got close to the finish line on June 18.)

It wouldn't have been the end of the world if Smart just came back on his $6.1 million qualifying offer and then walked in free agency next summer, but paying more to have him around for what could be championship runs should have always been the better option. 

Yes, the Celtics are kind of negotiating against themselves because Smart is an RFA and hasn't received an offer sheet, but if after Dante Exum signed for three years at $11 million per, didn't it make sense for Smart to get something similar? 

So Smart got four years and $52 million. That's $2 million more a year to have him for four years. More importantly, it isn't the $16 million some team could have given him to get the Celtics to either overpay or walkaway. Smart isn't one of the Celtics' five best players, but he's one of the better defenders in the league. The Celtics seemingly don't have to pay through the nose to get him for four more years, so they'd be smart to wrap something up for the numbers that have been reported. 

Also, a picture surfaced of Jayson Tatum cropping Stephen A. Smith out of a picture with Denzel Washington. What a day. 

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