Beating the Sixers starts with Boston’s wings

Boston’s first round matchup against the Philadelphia 76ers tips off Monday at 6:30PM. The Sixers are going to be without Ben Simmons for the entirety of the series, but that doesn’t mean it’ll be a cake walk for the Celtics. So how exactly are the C’s supposed to get by Philly? Basically, what is the blueprint to beating the Sixers.

Let’s start off on the offensive end. Obviously, Simmons is one of the best perimeter defenders in the NBA, and a big reason the Sixers were able to beat up on the Celtics this year. Boston thrives on using their wings and versatility to make opposing defenses pay. Without Simmons, there’s a lot left to be desired on the defensive end for Philly.

The Celtics have four All-Star-caliber scoring options on offense. Two were All-Stars this year (Kemba Walker and Jayson Tatum), one was an All-Star just a few years ago (Gordon Hayward), and the last has all the talent to be an All-Star in the near future (Jaylen Brown). Without Simmons, the big question is going to be – who’s supposed to guard Boston’s barrage of offense?

I would assume that Philadelphia puts Josh Richardson on Walker. Richardson’s a solid defender and will definitely give Walker some trouble. Matisse Thybulle is probably their second-best defender, even when Simmons is healthy, so he’ll most likely guard Tatum at the end of games. Beyond those two guys, however, the Sixers don’t really have any great perimeter defenders. So my new question is – who guards Brown and Hayward? 

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No matter who ends up matched up with those guys, the important thing to remember for Boston is ball movement. The more the ball moves around the perimeter, the harder it will be for Philly defenders to keep up. With only a couple really good defenders on the perimeter, the Celtics are always one switch away to having a favorable matchup. After that, it’s all about driving and shooting. If the Celtics core four can convert on their attempts, there’s nothing the Sixers can do to stop them. 

So let’s say the offensive game plan is set – expose Philly on the perimeter and let the core four go to work. That just leaves the issue of defense; and on that end of the floor there’s only one man that scares me. Joel Embiid.

Honestly, without Simmons there attacking the rim every possession, Embiid will have even more room to work in the post. My podcast co-host Sam LaFrance even suggested the Sixers’ offense may run smoother without Simmons on the floor. So the idea that Philly is going to be easier to deal with on defense is definitely not true.

Embiid is a top-two center in the league, and maybe even number one. He can bang in the post, hit the fadeaway mid-range, and even extend his game out to the three-point arc. Daniel Theis has done a solid job defending him this season, but Embiid’s too much of a monster to stop completely. I know I’ve mentioned that Brown has had some success guarding big men in the past, but Embiid is a different beast. The only way Boston will have a chance at slowing him down will be with defense by committee.

It’s the same way the Celtics have attempted to stop Giannis Antetokounmpo when he gets to the post. If Embiid gets the ball in the post, a defender from the perimeter comes over to help right when Embiid least expects it. Marcus Smart is super good at this type of play, and it commonly results in the ball handler panicking and making a bad pass or forcing up a bad shot. Stopping Embiid will be solely based on perfectly timed double teams and forcing him to make bad decisions on offense.

If the Celtics leave any of their centers on Embiid for too long, he will get his way with them in the post. Embiid will always get his buckets, he’s just that good of a player. It’s not about stopping him, it’s about slowing him down enough to get the win.

I fully expect Boston to bring their A-game in this first-round series. I think they have the better offense, the better defense, and are just the better team. Hopefully, they can prove me right on the court. 

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