After the Sixers and Celtics scrapped and fought through a hard-nosed seven-game series in last season’s playoffs, it seemed as though an old rivalry had been revived with future playoff meetings all but certain. Well, Boston held up their end of the bargain while the only bracket Sixers fans will have to worry about is one ranking Andrew Bynum’s craziest hair styles. With an aging core of Kevin Garnett and Paul Pierce, no one would have been surprised by injuries playing a large role in the Celtics’ season. Ironically though, it is two of their younger players out for the season in all-star point guard Rajon Rondo (ACL) and emerging rookie Jared Sullinger (back). Despite those losses, the Celtics continue to play good basketball and find themselves firmly in the playoffs and only 2 games back of the 4th seed and home-court advantage in the first round.
During the Kevin Garnett era, the Celtics have always established their identity on the defensive end of the floor and this season is no different, ranking 6th in the league with a 99.5 defensive rating. Amid all of the screaming and psychotic eye-rolling is his ability to direct teammates into correct positions and demand nothing but maximum effort from them at all times. When Garnett is on the court, Boston is the 2nd best defense in the league with a 96.5 defensive rating, while the team is in the bottom half of the league defensively when he is on the bench with a 103.8 defensive rating. The Rondo injury means additional playing time for Avery Bradley, one of the best young perimeter defenders in the league, who will draw the assignment of marking Jrue Holiday.
Tuesday night’s meeting is the last of 4 games between the two teams, with Philadelphia having won two of the first three contests. Evan Turner had excellent games in the two Sixers’ victories recording a 26 point, 10 rebound game, and a 25 point, 11 rebound effort. Turner seems to match up well with Paul Pierce who at this point of his career lacks the type of raw athleticism that typically shuts down Turner’s offensive game. That being said, Pierce has had an excellent season, ranking 7th among SF in PER at 18.54 (min. 20 mins/game), averaging 18.6 ppg with a true shooting percentage right about league average at 54.1%, 6.3 rpg, and 4.5 apg. Pierce and Garnett really stepped up their games following the Rondo injury, the biggest reason the Celtics remain in playoff position.
Keys to the Game:
- Get out and run. Boston ranks in the bottom half of the league in terms of pace and, much like Chicago last week, the Sixers will find it difficult to score once the defense is set up in the half court. Try to speed up the game and convert some easy baskets in transition.
- Big game for Turner. Jrue Holiday may find scoring room difficult to come by with Avery Bradley in his jock most of the night; Turner will have to pick up the slack and continue his strong play against Boston.
- Make someone other than Pierce and Garnett beat you. The two stars’ usage rates combine for over half of Boston’s offense on the season. Force the ball out of their hands whenever possible; if someone like Jeff Green or Jason Terry gets hot to win it for Boston, that’s something an opponent has to live with.
Prediction: Another close defensive struggle with the Sixers’ poor late game execution once again coming back to haunt them. Boston builds toward home-court advantage while Sixers fans look toward potential lottery picks in the world of college basketball.