It’s seemed an inevitability for a while, but now it’s official: The Sixers will play the Celtics in the first round of the playoffs.
The Pacers beat the Rockets on Wednesday, which means the Sixers cannot finish ahead of Indiana. Though the Sixers could still end with an identical record to the Pacers', Indiana would hold the tiebreaker because of a 3-1 edge in the regular-season series. This will be the second time in the past three years that the Sixers have played Boston in the postseason. With the help of valuable contributions from current Sixer Al Horford, the Celtics won a tight five-game series in the second round in 2018.
The winner of the Sixers-Celtics series will take on either the No. 2 seed Raptors or No. 7 seed Nets in the second round.
The Sixers beat Boston in their first three regular-season meetings this season, then lost 116-95 on Feb. 1, a game in which Joel Embiid shot 1 for 11. Embiid, who is available to play Wednesday after suffering a left ankle injury Sunday, will be especially important with Ben Simmons out after undergoing surgery to remove a loose body from his left knee. While the Feb. 1 performance against the Celtics was one of his worst this year, his 38-point, 13-rebound, six-assist effort in a Dec. 12 win over Boston was one of his best.
He expects to face relentless double teams from the Celtics — and from any opponent, for that matter. The 26-year-old had been responding to double teams well at Disney World before his injury and averaged 30.0 points, 13.5 rebounds and 3.3 assists in the Sixers’ first four seeding games.
“I’ve just gotta keep on getting better,” he said on Aug. 3, “because I know that every single game I’m going to get doubled, so I’ve gotta just figure that out to be the offense and create shots for my teammates. If I’m open and I’ve got a duck-in, just go out and do it. But other than that, just try to make sure defenders attract a lot of attention, just for my teammates.”
Perimeter defense will be a challenge for the Sixers without Simmons, especially against All-Stars Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum. Josh Richardson, Matisse Thybulle and Glenn Robinson III are among the players who should draw the most difficult assignments.
In addition to Robinson, trade deadline acquisition Alec Burks hasn’t played this season in a Sixers-Celtics matchup. He’s been a bright spot in the seeding games as a shot creator off the bench and has also made 12 of his 22 three-point attempts (54.5 percent).
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