Celts Preparing for Sizable Challenge on Opening Night

BOSTON – Come Wednesday night, the Boston Celtics will finally find some answers as to how well they can defend the most dominant big men in the NBA this season.

Boston is set to face off against Joel Embiid, Al Horford and the Philadelphia 76ers Wednesday night in Philadelphia in a season-opening battle between two of the most talented teams in the Eastern Conference. The biggest difference between these two teams on paper is size. The Sixers have it, and the Celtics don’t, and that could be a problem for Boston.

Embiid is one of the most imposing and dominant interior bodies in the league. He is a 7-footer who weighs 280 pounds. Embiid has the size and power to back down nearly any defender the league has to offer.

Hofrord isn’t quite as big, but he measured in at 6-foot-9.25 without sneakers and weighs 240 pounds. He is another sizable body that possesses great strength and length around the paint.

Simply put, the Celtics to not have that type of size. Their tallest player is rookie Vincent Poirier, who stands in at 7-foot but weighs only 235 pounds. Their heaviest player is Enes Kanter, who weighs 250 pounds and stands in at 6-foot-10. All four of Boston’s centers weigh between 235 and 250 pounds.

This lack of intimidating size could become a problem for the Celtics for Opening Night and beyond, but it also may not be as much of an issue as some might expect. As of now, the team doesn’t have any answers on that front due to some bad luck during the preseason.

The most powerful and sizable interior presences on Boston’s opposing teams did not play against the C’s. All-Star center Nikola Vucevic, who is listed at 7-foot, 260 pounds, was not active for the Magic’s exhibition matchup with the Celtics. Neither was 6-foot-10 big man, and well-known interior threat Tristan Thompson for the Cavs.

With these players missing from action, the Celtics were never forced to defend an imposing big man during the preseason. Their greatest challenge in that regard was facing off against Kevin Love, who is likely in the 6-foot-8 range and weighs less than 250 pounds As a result, the question still remains as to whether or not the Celtics have what it takes to contain the best of the best on the interior.

These types of questions did not exist for Boston a year ago. Last season, Horford, an elite defender in every sense, was a member of the Celtics, and 6-foot-10, 260-pound Aron Baynes was around to battle against the biggest bodies in the league, such as Embiid.

With those bodies now gone, Boston will likely need to rely on more creative strategies to defend players like Embiid. One-on-one defense might not get the job done. More double-teams and traps may be in order, as well as attempting to entice players like Embiid to float into areas of the floor that are farther from the basket.

Whatever strategies Boston elects to use, it already knows that it will be outsized by Embiid and Horford Wednesday night. Fortunately, many players within the team’s frontcourt are well-versed in defending at a high level while being outsized.

Rookie forward Grant Williams is one of those players. Williams, who is 6-foot-6 and weighs 236 pounds, has played a good amount of power forward and center in his career. Following Monday’s practice, he explained his basic mindset while being matched up against larger bodies.

“The biggest thing is you need to play with a solid base. You try to not let them move you,” he said. “You try to push them out as much as you can, to then stand them up when they try and drive you, because for anyone, if they catch it with two feet in this league they’re probably going to score.”

Williams went on to reference a couple of NBA defenders who have been quite successful as undersized big men.

“if you look at guys who are undersized, the Draymonds (Green), the Paul Millsap’s of the world,” he said, “they push guys out, extend the post, extend the catch, and try to force a contested jumper or a fadeaway.”

These are tactics of which the Celtics will need to rely on this season far more than they did in the recent past. They’ll finally have the opportunity Wednesday night to see whether or not they will work against the league’s most intimidating bigs.

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