The Philadelphia 76ers have steamrolled the NBA over the last month. They entered the playoffs on one of the longest winning streaks in franchise history; and proceeded to knockout the Miami Heat in five games. The Celtics on the other hand, battled through injuries to star players Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, limped into the playoffs, and were pushed to seven games by the Milwaukee Bucks. They took two different roads but ultimately ended up in the same place, pitted against one another for a berth to the Eastern Conference Finals. Three storylines will undoubtedly determine who clinches that berth.
Process vs Grit
“Trust the Process” has been the mantra of the Sixers since the inception of their tanking strategy. After being NBA bottom-feeders for years, the Process has been fully trusted and the Sixers are playing a unique, exciting brand of basketball. The have generational talents in Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons that are changing the way the game is played, and they are surrounded by capable role players. As mentioned above, the Celtics are riddled with injuries, and they play a gritty, grind-you-down style of basketball. The Celtics will border on fouling on every possession, and slow the game down to a grinding halt. Two contrasting versions of basketball will clash in this series and only one will be victorious.
Ben Simmons vs. Semi Ojeleye and Marcus Smart
The Celtics will have to treat Ben Simmons like they did Giannis Antetokounmpo. Simmons, like Giannis, is a towering point forward, not a three-point threat, but can get into the paint and to the rim whenever he wants. Semi Ojeleye did a phenomenal job when he was inserted into the starting lineup. He is 6’7″ and 240 lbs of muscle. When matched up on Giannis he used his quick feet, long arms, and brute strength to force him into uncomfortable positions on the floor and ultimately wore him down. He can do the same against Simmons. Coach Brad Stevens won’t rely on just Ojeleye to stop Simmons. He will send different guys at him in order to keep in guessing on the offensive end. Marcus Smart is one of the key “other” guys that will be thrown at him. The Celtics will hope he can replicate some of the pesty qualities that Justise Winslow displayed in the previous round in order to frustrate Simmons.
Sixers 3-point Shooters
In the first round the Sixers go-to three-point marksmen, Marco Belinelli and J.J. Redick were on absolute fire. Redick led the team in scoring in the series at 20 points per game, and Belinelli averaged 16.6 ppg off the bench. When these two are running off screens and are able to catch fire, this Sixers offense is unstoppable. When they aren’t able to bury threes however, they leave the team very vulnerable on defense. To Redick’s credit, he has improved dramatically over the years on the defensive end. Belinelli is just a bad defender plain and simple. Whichever one of them is on the floor will most likely draw the assignment of trying to stop Terry Rozier. The energetic and crafty point guard is a terrible matchup for both Redick and Belinelli, so they better be knocking down threes if they want to stay on the court.
If the Celtics were healthy this would be a different story, but Sixers in 6.
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