BOSTON – The Celtics caught a bit of a break tonight with the Philadelphia 76ers keeping Joel Embiid out for the game.
Considering his impact and the fact that he’s not nursing any specific injury, it might seem strange that he sits out a game of this magnitude.
But when it comes to Embiid and the Sixers, there has been very little that has gone according to plan.
Officially this is his second NBA season, but he has been on an NBA payroll for three-plus seasons. His first two seasons were spent on the sidelines nursing injuries. Last season was his first extensive action, but that season was shortened due to injuries after having played 31 games.
To the casual observer, it might seem odd to have such an integral part of a team’s success not play against the team with the best record in the NBA.
“It is unusual but it’s an unusual circumstance,” Danny Ainge, Celtics president of basketball operations, said on 98.5 the Sports Hub’s Toucher & Rich show. “He played 31 games in three years. They know his body; they have good medical staff. They’re just being cautious with him. It sounds like it’s probably the right thing to do.
Ainge added, “Joel is a terrific player. He’s had a fantastic season. They’re doing all they can to be a playoff team. I think they’re probably doing the right thing for him.”
Without Embiid, the Sixers will turn to multiple bodies to help fill the void left by the 7-footer who is averaging a double-double of 22.9 points and 11.3 rebounds along with 3.3 assists and 1.8 blocks.
Here are five under-the-radar storylines heading into tonight’s game:
POINT GUARD MATCHUP
Boston’s Kyrie Irving and Philly’s Ben Simmons are two of the more effective point guards in the league today, getting the job done in their own way. Irving is an elite scorer who relies on his quickness, ability to change direction at the drop of a dime courtesy of well-above-average ball-handling skills. Simmons has tremendous size (6-foot-10), strength and straight-line ball-handling to get to the rim along with exceptional court vision that collectively makes him a handful to defend. Whoever outshines the other will be key to their respective team’s chances at victory tonight.
If you spend enough time around Horford, you will soon learn that he’s not the braggadocious person. But when asked recently about whether he’s playing as well as he’s ever played, Horford responded, “I feel that I am. I feel that I’m playing at a really high level. I always look at ways to get better. Even now there are still some things that I’ll keep working through and hopefully by the end of the year I’ll be in an even better position. I’m very confident in the way that I’m moving, the way that I’m playing.”
ON THE LINE
If the Sixers get on a bit of a roll tonight, don’t be surprised if Brad Stevens goes to the Hack-a-Ben (Simmons) strategy which we saw in Philly’s 118-113 win over Washington on Wednesday. Simmons, who ended the Wizards game with a double-double of 31 points and 18 rebounds which were both career highs, shot an NBA-record 24 free throws in the fourth quarter. While it’s highly unlikely Stevens and the Celtics will foul him that much, rest assured he’ll likely be sent to the line intentionally at some point near the end of the game or a quarter.
MORRIS REUNION WEEK
Indeed, it has been one familiar face after another all week for Marcus Morris. The Detroit Pistons, the team that traded Morris to Boston, was in town on Monday. Tonight Morris will face his hometown team, the Philadelphia 76ers. And on Saturday, the Phoenix Suns will be in town. Morris spent two-plus seasons with the Suns. He has shown nothing but love for the Pistons after they traded him and said he likes the direction his hometown team is going. But Phoenix? “Well, it’s a little different from Detroit than Phoenix. I got a lot of love for Detroit, never rubbed me wrong, did me wrong.”
Bench scoring has not been a strength of either team. According to hoopsstats.com, the Celtics’ second unit is averaging 30.5 points per game which ranks 22nd in the NBA. Meanwhile, the Sixer’s backups have struggled even more, averaging 27.1 points per game which ranks 27th in the league.