Throughout the playoffs, we’ll be doing series previews for each and every matchup. For more in-depth analysis, check out our Eastern and Western Conference Preview Articles, which covered the conferences at-large. Find all of our NBA playoff content here and on Twitter (@GamblingPodcast and @NBAZachB).
Series Price and Game 1 Line
Philadelphia 76ers -450 vs. Boston Celtics +350.
G1: PHI (-3.5) @ BOS, O/U 207, -165/+145.
Regular Season H2H
10/20/17: Boston 102, Philadelphia (-3) 92. Under 216.5.
11/30/17: Philadelphia 97, Boston (-8) 108. Under 211.5.
1/11/18: Boston (-1.5) 114, Philadelphia 103. Over 212. Game played in London.
1/18/18: Philadelphia 89, Boston (-3) 80. Under 203.
Facts and Figures
Philadelphia 76ers (#3)
- 52-30 Overall. 48-32-2 ATS. 40-41-1 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Joel Embiid, 22.9 PPG.
- Best Stats: 55.6 REB/Gm (#1), +4.5 Scoring Margin/Gm (#4), 43.4% Opp. FG (#1).
- Worst Stats: 75.2 % FT (#23), 25.6 Opp. FTA/Gm (#29), 16.5 TOV/Gm (#30).
- Notable Injuries: None.
Boston Celtics (#2)
- 55-27 Overall. 50-30-2 ATS. 42-37-3 O/U.
- Leading Scorer: Jaylen Brown, 14.5 PPG.
- Best Stats: 11.5 3-PT/Gm (#7), 101.5 Def Rtg (#1), 33.9% Opp. 3-PT (#1).
- Worst Stats: 39.8 Pts in the Paint/Gm (#29), 22.5 AST/Gm (#20).
- Notable Injuries: Jaylen Brown, Hamstring – Questionable for Game 1. Kyrie Irving, Knee – Out for season. Gordon Hayward, Leg – Out for season. Daniel Theis, Knee – Out for season.
What We Learned in Round 1
The Process has arrived earlier than expected. The Sixers were tremendous in their first round series against Miami, taking it to a more experienced team that tried and failed to punk their youthful opponent. Philadelphia’s young core grew up right in front of our eyes, winning two games on the road in a tough playoff series and looking like a veteran group in the process. The Sixers have suddenly turned into an offensive juggernaut, leading the postseason in scoring at over 114 points per game. This stems from both the ridiculous command exhibited by Ben Simmons and their unique roster composition allowing them to throw out lineups filled with length and strength without sacrificing jump-shooting.
Lineups like Simmons-Redick-RoCo-Saric-Embiid (+10.6 Net Rating in the playoffs) or Simmons-Redick-Saric-Bellinelli-Ilyasova (+18) present countless mismatches for the Sixers, who can bring size onto the floor without sacrificing skill or shooting. As such, the Sixers are assisting on close to 70% of their field goals and are proving that you can score in the playoffs without a true isolation scoring threat on the perimeter.
The Sixers have the talent and athleticism to defend like maniacs, but what we learned about them in Round 1 is that the additions of Ilyasova and Bellinelli (and season-long presence of Saric, Redick, and Covington) to this rotation have added a shooting boost that maximizes Simmons’ unselfishness and creates more space for Embiid inside.
In Round 1, we learned that Boston is the toughest team in this playoffs. Without their two best players, the youthful Celtics persevered, gritting and grinding their way to a seven-game victory over a more talented Milwaukee team. The Celtics got contributions from up and down the roster, led by Brown and Tatum’s scoring prowess, Al Horford’s steadiness, and the emergence of Terry Rozier into a clutch playoff guard.
We also saw that the Celtics have one of the great home-court advantages in the league, going 4-0 SU and 4-0 ATS in their series against Milwaukee. Their level of play dropped considerably on the road, as their first round performance was one of true jekyll-and-hyde proportions; the Celtics posted a +9.8 Net Rating (elite) in their four home games and a -17.3 Net Rating (awful) in their three road games. As such, home-court advantage in this series vs. Philadelphia will be a massively important edge for the Celtics. Not only are the Celtics dominant at home, but the Sixers have won just one of their last eight games in Boston.
Key Overall Matchup
The Sixers are undoubtedly a better team than Boston in its current depleted state. They have more talent across the board, have the only two superstars in the series, play with better pace, and shoot the basketball better. But I’d be careful to coronate the Sixers in a series that will surely feature a ton of physicality and even more emotions. What the Celtics lack in talent, they make up for in other ways and will try to use their fantastic defense to muck up these games and make the young Sixers earn their stripes in the half-court.
Boston was 1st in Defensive Rating and 3rd in Opponent PPG and will do everything in their power to keep these games in the 90s. Within the 5-man defensive concept, Embiid has struggled all year against the veteran savvy of Horford and Baynes, and the Celtics will have plenty of gritty, tough defenders to throw at Ben Simmons. I can’t wait to see Marcus Smart on him in the fourth quarter.
What will determine this series, then, is the question of who dictates the pace. Boston likely does not have the horses to hang with Philadelphia in an uptempo high-scoring spot, but perhaps even has an advantage if the game is slowed down into a possession-by-possession slog. The Sixers are at their best when they get out and run, and were able to crucially control the pace against Miami in the first round. Miami likely had the same thesis we expect from Boston — slowing the game down and trying to rough up the high-flying Sixers. Yet, Miami lost control of pace early and often and saw their pace metrics skyrocket from 97 possessions per 48 minutes in the regular season to 103 per 48 minutes in the first round against Philly.
Boston will have to avoid falling into the same trap as Miami did, as Philly’s talent advantage will reap increasing returns as the pace of the game climbs and the teams get up and down. Boston’s toughness advantage, however, will do the same if they are able to control the pace and make the Sixers uncomfortable.
Key Individual Matchup
Joel Embiid vs. Al Horford
Embiid has struggled mightily this season against Horford, shooting just 35% when the two are matched up, per NBA.com’s Second Spectrum Tracking Data. An engaged Embiid is so vital to everything the Sixers do, not just in their on-court approach but more broadly in the energy of their team. All season long, the Sixers have fed off of Embiid’s ability to win individual matchups against other bigs, both in the game itself and on twitter afterward. If Horford can neutralize Embiid, who has a penchant for forcing up shots when he’s struggling, the Celtics can throw the Sixers off their rocker a little bit.
On the other end of the floor, Al Horford will be coming into this series off of one of the great performances of the first round, where he averaged 18 and 9 on 59/44/77 shooting splits. He is now arguably Boston’s lead offensive playmaker, but his most valuable role in this series will be dragging Embiid away from the hoop to open up the rim for Tatum and Brown. If Horford is hitting shots and keeping Embiid honest, the Celtics bogged-down offense suddenly begins to open up a little bit.
Philadelphia wins if…
Simmons and Embiid are the two best players in the series; they control the pace; they win Game 1 or 2 on the road.
Boston wins if…
Jaylen Brown or Al Horford has a “superstar series”; the Sixers get rattled a bit; Marcus Smart is the toughest player in the series; they shoot the shit out of the ball.
Sixers in 6.