Sixers’ best bet in Boston is trying to run the Celtics out of the arena
Boston will be coming off a game Wednesday in Indiana, while the Sixers will be rested after a home win Tuesday against Denver.
When the 76ers play in Boston on Thursday against the rival Celtics, it would be an ideal time for the visitors to run.
Despite the low post presence of Joel Embiid, the Sixers are dangerous in the open court, when Ben Simmons is orchestrating the fast break.
A great example came Tuesday in a 97-92 win over visiting Denver, when the Sixers outscored the Nuggets by 17-5 on fast break points in the first half. The Sixers led, 55-50 halftime.
“We were just moving the pace,” Simmons said after the game. “I was trying to get some boards and move out quick and get a little bit of momentum for our team and guys were running and it was great.”
Credit both the Sixers and the Nuggets for second-half adjustments. The Sixers had only two fast break points after halftime but were able to win with their defense. Denver shot just 2 for 11 in the second half from three-point range.
Still, that first half is the way the Sixers would like to operate, and coming out running would be the best strategy against the Celtics. That’s because Boston will be on the second game of a back-to-back.
While the Sixers were resting in Boston, the Celtics had to play Wednesday in Indiana.
There is a special element when the Sixers face Boston, especially when both are viable contenders, and that is certainly the case this season.
The Sixers are 18-7 and have won three in a row and seven of eight. They opened the season with a 107-93 home win over the Celtics that was a little closer than the final score indicated.
Boston got to within 77-73 on a Gordon Hayward layup with 9 minutes , 31 seconds left. From there, the Sixers took off, breaking the game open by going on a 10-0 run.
In that game, the Sixers outscored Boston in fast break points, 14-8.
It will be interesting to see if either team allows the other easy points in transition. Entering Wednesday, Boston was eighth in the NBA in fast break points per game, averaging 14.8. The Sixers were 12th (13.8 per game).
Even more pronounced than the Sixers’ edge in fast break points during the opener was their 58-44 advantage on points in the pain. Boston has trouble defending the interior, but the Sixers would also benefit from getting as many easy points as possible in transition.
That win over Boston demonstrated great versatility, with the Sixers scoring inside and on the break. Conversely, in the Denver win, the Sixers were outscored by 48-38 in points in the paint.
Another factor will be home-court advantage. The Sixers, Celtics, and Miami Heat are the only three NBA teams that are undefeated at home.
At the Wells Fargo Center, the Sixers are 13-0. Boston is 10-0 at TD Garden and Miami is 11-0 at home.
Another story line is the return of Al Horford, who played the previous three seasons in Boston before signing as a free agent this summer with the Sixers.
Horford is averaging 13.8 points and 6.8 rebounds, while still admittedly getting used to playing with his new team, especially Embiid. The leadership of the 33-year-old, five-time All-Star has been huge for the Sixers.
If the game needed any extra buzz, Embiid’s comments after Tuesday’s win that he isn’t having as much fun because he’s not trash talking as much will just add to the scene.
Embiid said after he was suspended for two games following his altercation with Minnesota’s Karl-Anthony Towns during a 117-95 win over the Timberwolves on Oct. 30, he cut back the trash talking.
“The fight happened and we had good momentum, and from there we kind of lost it and lost a couple of games," Embiid said on Tuesday. “I am not trying to be a distraction, but that is part of my game. And I feel that me losing that part [trash talking] has kind of taken a toll.”
There is so much hoopla surrounding this nationally televised game on TNT, likely giving it a playoff feel.
Yet when it is all said and done, it might come down to whether the Sixers bring their running shoes and whether the Celtics are able to stop them in transition.