Since the Boston Celtics were without their best player for their two games in three days with the 76ers, it is difficult to rate where the two teams stand with each other, but there are a few definite assumptions that can be made after the Sixers 122-110 win on Friday at the Wells Fargo Center.
Jayson Tatum, who made his first all-star team last season and has many he’ll make in the future, missed both games while out due to health and safety protocols.
Coupled with Wednesday’s 117-109 win over the Celtics, the Sixers (11-5) have put some distance between themselves and the Celtics (8-6).
Since the Celtics have been to the Eastern Conference finals three of the previous four years, they are a good barometer to measure by, even without Tatum.
“We got wins, it doesn’t matter who they have or who we have, you got to win these games,” Sixers coach Doc Rivers said after Friday’s victory. “They are a quality team, a well-coached team, with lethal scorers on the floor.”
As it turned out, the Sixers had more lethal scorers. Here are a couple of things the two games showed us.
Boston can’t handle Joel Embiid
Embiid scored 80 points in the two games and he was successful scoring facing the basket, with his back to the basket, driving to the basket and getting to the foul line. He attempted 36 free throws in the two games.
The Celtics just don’t have the size or the quickness in the front court to stay with Embiid. As mentioned many times, neither does just about the rest of the NBA.
Boston did a better job on Friday on the double team. Embiid had one turnover on Wednesday and five on Friday. but he was able to get any shot he wanted and made 23 of 34 (67.6%).
Embiid’s sub wasn’t bad either
The Celtics also had trouble with Dwight Howard.
Again, the Celtics lack of size hurt against Howard who was a rebounding machine. He only averaged 16 minutes and 27 seconds in the two games, but averaged 11 rebounds and five off the offensive glass.
One thing that always has to be watched with Howard is turnovers. After having none on Wednesday, he had five on Friday. That said, the Celtics had trouble matching his physical play.
Celtics’ bench was lacking
If the Celtics want to compete in the Eastern Conference, they likely will have to get another scorer off the bench. When Tatum returns, Grant Williams will likely go to the bench.
Other than Daniel Theis scoring 23 points off the bench on Wednesday, the Celtics got little else in the two games from their reserves.
Jeff Teague, a veteran who has shown he can provide offense, didn’t in either game, combining to shoot 3 for 12. He’s got to give the Celtics more than that.
Conversely, the Sixers got strong performances from Howard and Matisse Thybulle, who was a defensive presence in both games. Thybulle also had nine points on Friday and any offense, a major difference from when he went scoreless on Wednesday.
The Sixers were able to win on Friday without an explosion from Shake Milton, who had six points, but he was more of a difference maker on Wednesday with 16. Right now, the Sixers have a decided bench advantage against Boston.
In both games, Tobias Harris was highly efficient and what he has shown against the Celtics is that he can get his shot off anytime. Now Tatum could impact this on his return, but Harris is playing with great confidence.
His performance on Friday, where he went 10 for 12, including 3 of 3 from three-point range, was one of his most efficient offensive efforts of the season.
Kemba’s a handful
Celtics point guard Kemba Walker is too quick for any defender, including Ben Simmons. He is still on a minutes restriction, having played only three games after returning from a knee injury. As much as he gives the Celtics on offense, he is a liability on defense. On Friday, he had a minus-21 rating.
The Sixers have to attack him and make him work even more on defense, but as he gets in better NBA shape, he will be an offensive force to contend with.