Game Preview: Celtics at 76ers
BOSTON – When the Boston Celtics (31-27) and Philadelphia 76ers (23-35) met on Dec. 8 in TD Garden, both teams were running on fumes in the second night of a back-to-back. Neither team will be in that situation when they meet at 7 p.m. tonight in Philadelphia.
The Celtics will have the leg up on the Sixers in terms of rest, as they enjoyed three consecutive days without a game after defeating the Warriors Friday night at TD Garden. Philadelphia had Monday off following a loss to the Wizards on Sunday evening in our nation’s capital.
Sunday’s loss was Philadelphia’s eighth in its last nine games. The Sixers have pretty much dropped out of contention for the playoffs barring a miracle over their final 24 games of the season.
It’s not difficult to pinpoint the reasons why Philly has dropped off the ledge just one season after taking the Celtics to seven games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The Sixers took part in the summer’s largest trade, landing Andrew Bynum from the Lakers in the Dwight Howard megadeal. That trade sent Philadelphia’s previous top player, Andre Iguodala, to Denver.
Many people around the league, including Doc Rivers, lauded Philadelphia’s participation in that trade. After all, it’s always a challenge to land a premier, game-changing center like Bynum.
The problem in Philadelphia is that Bynum hasn’t played a game this season due to bruises to his knees. His absence is just one of the reasons why the Sixers’ season has been a lost cause.
“Not having Bynum, and then not having Iguodala playing, that’s a lot of stuff,” Rivers said on Monday. “They’ve gone through a lot of injuries, a lot of stuff.”
The same can be said for the Celtics, who have suffered three season-ending injuries and turned over nearly half of their roster since training camp. Despite those facts, the Celtics sit four games above the .500 mark and just 2.5 games out of the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference.
Boston will hope to improve both of those numbers tonight, and it has a lot of factors on its side. The C’s will be playing on very rested legs and they’re coming off of an impressive home victory over a strong Golden State team. It also doesn’t hurt that they’re taking on a Philadelphia squad that is in a downward spiral.
KG Versus Hawes
Neither Kevin Garnett nor Spencer Hawes played very well when these teams last met. That shouldn’t be the case again tonight.
Garnett actually finished the Dec. 8 meeting with zero rebounds, which is an anomaly in his career. He did score 19 points on 9-of-11 shooting, but he did not provide the all-around game that he’s known for. He averages 9.9 rebounds per game this season while playing on at least three days of rest, so we should see a more well-rounded performance from KG tonight.
The same can be said for Hawes, who finished the last meeting against Boston with six points and eight rebounds. Hawes has been playing very well lately. He scored 20 points and grabbed 15 rebounds Thursday night against Chicago and then finished with 14 points and 11 boards Sunday against the Wizards.
None of us should be shocked if Hawes grabs another double-double tonight with Garnett following suit.
Paul Pierce’s Shooting
Paul Pierce loved seeing Iguodala shipped out of the Atlantic Division, but he hasn’t exactly excelled this season against Philadelphia’s other defenders. Pierce has shot just 43.1 percent from the field against the Sixers this season. That’s due in large part to Evan Turner’s bothersome defense.
Philadelphia shouldn’t assume that Pierce is going to shoot poorly against them tonight. The Sixers were lucky to play three games against Pierce and the Celtics earlier this season when the captain’s shooting stroke was off. Pierce is coming off of a 9-of-15 performance against Golden State and he’s a much different player now than he was back in November and December.
Jump on Them Early
Although the Celtics played just once in the last seven days, they would be well served if they can get their key players some rest again tonight. They have a very challenging back-to-back tomorrow night in Indiana against a red-hot Pacers team.
How can Boston keep its top players fresh for tomorrow’s showdown in Indiana? By jumping on the 76ers out of the gates tonight. There is no doubt that the C’s are the more talented team and Philadelphia is truly struggling right now. Boston needs to take advantage of those facts early on and carry the momentum through the remainder of the game.