The Sixers have 24 games left, and each one of them matters with playoff seeding at stake. But their March 20 matchup vs. the Celtics might matter a little more than the others as the Sixers will aim to avoid a season sweep against Boston.
Today, NBC Sports Philadelphia's Paul Hudrick and Noah Levick discuss how the Sixers can beat the Celtics if the two teams meet again in the playoffs.
Monday, they looked at who should be part of the Sixers' playoff rotation (see story).
Wednesday, they'll review their expectations for the rest of the season.
While the new-look Sixers will likely be a better team the next time they see the Celtics, there’s plenty to take from the previous matchups.
Some teams are a tough matchup for Joel Embiid and others for Ben Simmons. Boston is the rare team that gives both All-Stars problems. Al Horford is the rarest of players that can guard both.
Most NBA fives are susceptible to Embiid’s pump fakes or they can’t keep up with his footwork, often leading to fouls. That’s not the case with Horford, who has the discipline, strength and quickness to hang with Embiid. It’s a matter of Embiid making better and quicker decisions — especially against double teams.
With Simmons, it’s just about valuing the basketball and picking his spots to be aggressive. Boston is excellent at getting back in transition, where Simmons normally excels. Simmons is often better when he’s attacking, but against the Celtics he may be better off letting the game come to him, like he did last Tuesday.
The other thought, knowing how much Embiid and Simmons have struggled vs. Boston, is to run the offense more around Jimmy Butler and Tobias Harris.
Butler was the best player on the floor against the Celtics last week. We’ve briefly seen the Butler experiment at point guard. I’d be interested in seeing it more against Boston. It could allow Butler to be in control of the offense and allow Simmons to play a traditional four spot.
Harris struggled in the loss last week, but had good looks. He’s been with the team for less than two weeks, so Brown and his teammates are still figuring Harris out and how he fits in the offense. They have 24 games to find the best way to get Harris more involved. Doing so could come in handy if they face the Celtics again in the playoffs.
I think there are three keys to the Sixers beating the Celtics:
1. Make Joel Embiid’s life easier
We know Al Horford defends Embiid very well. Embiid just can’t draw fouls or score inside with ease against Horford the same way he does against other big men. That’s fine.
The Sixers can help Embiid by spacing the floor properly when he gets the ball, making the occasional, smart split cut off him, and recognizing that he’s not always going to be their best offensive option. Sometimes Tobias Harris or Jimmy Butler are going to be the right player to turn to down the stretch.
2. Play to Ben Simmons’ strengths
The current reality is Simmons, without a reliable jump shot, likely won’t be as effective offensively vs. the Celtics as he is against others teams. Boston does a great job neutralizing the athletic advantage Simmons usually possesses. Again, that doesn’t have to kill the Sixers.
I’ve mentioned it a bunch in the past, but it bears repeating — Simmons has gone from a poor post player (21 for 70, or 30 percent last season) to one of the better post-up players in the NBA this season (50 for 99, or 50.5 percent).
It would make sense for the Sixers to use Simmons more at the power forward spot than normal vs. Boston in lineups with Jimmy Butler or T.J. McConnell at the point.
3. Prioritize defense
As we saw last season, Boston is masterful at exposing defensive liabilities. Players like Furkan Korkmaz can’t see the floor against the Celtics. JJ Redick’s minutes might need to go down. McConnell, though he’s been very good recently against the Celtics, will probably only be playable if he’s asked to defend smaller guards like Terry Rozier.
In all likelihood, Brett Brown will need to ride his best defensive players — Butler, Embiid, Simmons and Harris. The Sixers have the talent to beat Boston, but Brown has a challenging task navigating the matchup troubles which the Celtics present.
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