kemba walker

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

Sixers at Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to follow the game

The 31-18 Sixers have two games left before the trade deadline Thursday. The first one doesn’t project to be easy, though they’ll play a shorthanded Celtics team (32-15) on Saturday night.

Here are the essentials: 

When: 8:30 p.m. ET 
Where: TD Garden 
Broadcast: ABC 
Live stats: Follow here

And here are three storylines to watch: 

No Walker; Horford’s back 

Kemba Walker will miss at least the next two games because of left knee soreness, Celtics head coach Brad Stevens told reporters. Enes Kanter (right hip contusion) is also out. 

He struggled against the Sixers on opening night, but Walker, an All-Star starter, totaled 55 points in the next two meetings between the teams. Boston is 3-2 without him. 

Al Horford is back after missing the Sixers' loss in Atlanta with left knee soreness.

He was also sidelined for the team's first game of the season in Boston, a 115-109 win on Dec. 12. Joel Embiid was dominant that night, scoring 38 points and grabbing 13 rebounds.

Not a bad replacement 

Shake Milton looked like he was playing in a G-League game Thursday night. He scored a career-best 27 points on just 12 field-goal attempts, dished out six assists and only had one turnover. 

A star last season with the Delaware Blue Coats, he’s performed well over the last three games as a replacement for Josh Richardson (left hamstring strain) in the starting lineup.

“That doesn’t surprise me,” Ben Simmons told reporters in Atlanta. “I’ve been around Shake since he’s been here. He works hard, he’s consistent and he trusts in his work.”

A chance to sweep 

The Sixers have an opportunity to sweep the regular-season series against the Celtics for the first time since the 2000-01 season.

They sealed the sweep that season with a 108-95 victory in Philadelphia on April 9. Allen Iverson scored 37 points, while Dikembe Mutombo threatened a triple-double with 12 points, 19 rebounds and eight blocks. 

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Sixers vs. Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

Sixers vs. Celtics: 3 storylines to watch and how to stream the game

The Sixers (24-14) can clinch their season series against the 25-10 Celtics and gain ground on Boston in the standings Thursday night.

Here are the essentials:

When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center 
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia
Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Embiid’s absence 

Joel Embiid is out tonight after dislocating his left ringer finger Monday in the Sixers’ game vs. the Thunder.

He was brilliant the last time the Sixers played the Celtics, scoring 38 points and grabbing 13 rebounds on Dec. 12. Al Horford missed that game against his former team because of right knee soreness and right hamstring tightness, but he’ll step into Embiid’s starting center spot Thursday.

The Sixers are 3-4 this year without Embiid, including blowout losses to the Pacers on New Year’s Eve and to the Nets on Dec. 20. 

The rookie’s return 

The positive injury news for the Sixers is that rookie Matisse Thybulle will be available after missing the last seven games with a right knee injury.

Thybulle, who was quizzed regularly by Tobias Harris during his time away from the court, still leads rookies in steals. 

Since Thybulle’s last appearance, the Sixers have only forced 11.6 turnovers per game, 26th in the NBA during that span. 

Walker coming off first career ejection 

Kemba Walker’s first game back following a three-game absence because of the flu ended early. 

The Celtics’ guard was ejected Wednesday night for protesting what he felt was an illegal screen by San Antonio’s LaMarcus Aldridge. Boston started slow — a persistent problem — and struggled defensively in its loss to the Spurs, the team’s second straight.

The Sixers guarded Walker well last time he was in Philadelphia, holding him to 4 of 18 shooting on Opening Night. 



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Sixers vs. Celtics opening night: 'Surreal' situation for Al Horford, guarding Kemba Walker among storylines to watch

Sixers vs. Celtics opening night: 'Surreal' situation for Al Horford, guarding Kemba Walker among storylines to watch

We've almost reached tip-off for Game 1 of 82. Finally. 

Below are the essentials for the regular-season opener Wednesday night between the Sixers and Celtics.

When: 7:30 p.m. ET (Sixers Pregame Live begins at 6:30 p.m.)
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBCSP
Live stream: NBC Sports Philadelphia.com and the NBC Sports MyTeams app 

And here are three storylines to watch: 

Guarding Kemba

Kemba Walker, the Celtics’ new All-Star point guard, averaged 37.0 points against the Sixers last season.

When a local coach at Brett Brown's annual "Coach the Coaches" clinic asked new Sixers assistant Ime Udoka the right time to blitz the pick-and-roll, Udoka noted that Walker scored 60 points against the Sixers last season. Brown got a kick out of the joke and gave Udoka a hug. 

Look for Josh Richardson to be the primary defender against the 6-foot Walker, and for the Sixers to take an aggressive approach toward getting the ball out of Walker’s hands if he starts to hurt them.

A ‘surreal’ Sixers debut 

Horford left the Celtics this summer to sign a four-year deal with the Sixers. Speaking of Walker, Horford told the Boston Herald’s Steve Bulpett that his situation would have “been totally different” if he’d known the point guard was headed to Boston.

The day before his Sixers debut, Horford was frank about went wrong with last year’s Celtics team, which lost in the second round of the playoffs to the Milwaukee Bucks.

I feel like last year with our group, we were so confident in what we did the year before and thinking that we were just probably going to walk through type of thing or turn it up when we needed to. What I’ve understood is that you have to put in the work and games need to be played. You have to do right things the right way consistently. That’s something where we weren’t able to be as consistent as we wanted to. That’s a lesson that I take with me.

Horford acknowledged he finds himself in a “very surreal” spot facing his former team on opening night, now playing alongside Joel Embiid instead of guarding him. It will likely take a while for him wearing a Sixers jersey to feel normal for all parties.

Strategies against size

Brown has mentioned many times over the past few weeks that the Sixers are “huge,” and has said he wants to play “smash mouth offense and bully ball defense.”

How does he think Boston will combat that approach? 

“We’ve prepared a lot, talked a lot about small ball, if they just roll out tiny players, what are we going to do? If they sit in a zone, matchup zone, what are we going to do? If they double team Joel all the time, what are we going to do? You just try to make sure we’re equipped to handle where other people may think we’re weak or want to exploit.”

The Sixers shot 31.7 percent from three-point range during the preseason and struggled against the Wizards’ zone in a sluggish final dress rehearsal, so it certainly wouldn’t be surprising to see a fair amount of zone from the Celtics. 



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