Sixers vs Celtics: Five bold predictions for the first round of the playoffs

NBA: MAR 01 76ers at Clippers
LOS ANGELES, CA – MARCH 01: Philadelphia 76ers Forward Mike Scott (1) celebrates with Philadelphia 76ers Guard Shake Milton (18) during a NBA game between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Los Angeles Clippers on March 1, 2020 at STAPLES Center in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire)

Tobias Harris silences the doubters.

From the very moment Tobias Harris inked that $180 million contract, the criticisms have poured down left and right on the Sixers forward. Anytime he misses a shot, Twitter is flooded with calls of “overpaid” and “overrated”.

For the most part, Harris has been exactly what the Sixers paid for, and then some. On the court, he’s averaged a cool 20 and 7, and has seen his defense evolve into that of an above average level. 

Off the court, Harris has quite emphatically taken over as the Sixers’ primary leader. He’s been involved with the Philadelphia community, has taken a mentorship role with rookie Matisse Thybulle, and regularly is the first one to speak up in the locker room.

Harris is going to be dueling with the likes of Jayson Tatum and Gordon Hayward during this series, and I fully expect him to hold his own. By the end of the first round, Sixers fans will be thanking their lucky stars that Harris is a Sixer for life.

Al Horford plays just well enough to warrant one more year in Philly.

Pretty much no matter who you ask in Philadelphia, the general consensus is that the Sixers need to do everything in their power to get rid of Al Horford this offseason.

If you’ve been following me personally during this past Sixers season (@DavidEsser_), you’ll know I pretty emphatically resonate with this point of view as well. The Horford signing has been a disaster from top to bottom.

However, due to the nature of this first-round matchup and the position the Sixers are in, it’s going to be near impossible for Horford to not have a good series. Ben Simmons is out due to injury, and the Celtics don’t have the bigs to match Horford down low.

With that in their minds, the Sixers front office will likely push this experiment one more year.

Shake Milton and Matisse Thybulle struggle.

Due to a wild series of events that include both injuries and just overall awful roster construction, the partnership of Matisse Thybulle and Shake Milton are now being expected to play crucial postseason roles.

I really like Thybulle, and I love Milton, but the Celtics guard play is arguably some of the best in the NBA currently. A rotation of Kemba Walker, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart is going to be an absolute nightmare for the Sixers defensively, and Milton and Thybulle just aren’t experienced enough to deal with that.

There was even some talk of starting Thybulle and having him shadow Tatum, which would result in Thybulle fouling out in about 12 seconds.

Joel Embiid dominates.

This one pretty much goes without saying, but Joel Embiid is poised for a monster first round.

He showed up to the “bubble” in incredible shape, the Celtics don’t have a serviceable center capable of guarding Embiid down low, and the emission of Simmons for the series means Embiid will have to carry the team even more so.

For some bizarre reason, Embiid has been on the receiving end of a lot of jokes and criticism from the national media. While they’ll stay dead silent when Anthony Davis or Nikola Jokic score ten points, they’ll instantly pounce on Embiid if he isn’t scoring 40 with ease.

At some point, this really started to get to Embiid, and it appears he’s looking to use this year’s postseason as a national spotlight for him to prove he’s the best big in the NBA (which he is).

With all this internal motivation, he’s going to absolutely annihilate Boston down low.

The Sixers lose in 6.

Ultimately, I don’t see how the Sixers scrape out a win in this one. The loss of Simmons is genuinely impossible to measure because he’s just too valuable to this team.

Without Simmons, guys like Tatum and Brown will likely have a field day on offense. Plus, if Embiid misses any sort of time due to his lingering hand/ankle injuries, the Sixers won’t have Simmons to fall back on.

I hate to be a Debby-downer, but from a basketball standpoint, this doesn’t appear to be a series the 76ers are in position to win. Even with solid performances from Harris, Horford, and Embiid, the combined offensive powerhouse that is the Boston Celtics will just be too much to handle.

Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire