Sixers vs Celtics: Game preview, TV Schedule & bold predictions for game 1

Tyrese Maxey sixers
Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey (0) reacts after scoring during the second half of Game 4 in an NBA basketball first-round playoff series against the Brooklyn Nets, Saturday, April 22, 2023, in New York. (AP Photo/Frank Franklin II)

The Philadelphia 76ers head to Boston to take on the Celtics in the start of their second-round playoff series. Having swept the Brooklyn Nets, the Sixers will be looking for similar success against a Celtics team who had some problems defeating the Atlanta Hawks in the opening round.

Sixers vs Celtics game info

Who: Philadelphia 76ers (0-0) at Boston Celtics (0-0)
When: 7:30 pm EST
Where: TD Garden, Boston, Mass.
Watch: TNT

Sixers vs Celtics Betting odds

Spread: Sixers +10 | Celtics -10
Moneyline: Sixers +400 | Celtics -500
Total: Over/Under 213.5 points

Spotlight on the Sixers

The Sixers swept the Brooklyn Nets without the dominating performances that were expected from Joel Embiid and James Harden. Embiid injured his knee and missed Game 4, while Paul Reed stepped in and had 10 points and 15 rebounds in the star center’s absence. Reed will be the likely starter in game one against the Celtics as Embiid is listed as doubtful from his knee injury.

James Harden has had a rough start to the playoffs as well. He averaged 17.3 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 8.8 assists in the Brooklyn series. The real issue for Harden was his shooting. He’s only connected on 34.1% of his field goal attempts.

The good news would be that the veteran shot 42.4% on his three-point attempts in the series. The Sixers will need the absolute best version of James Harden if they’re going to defeat the Celtics in the series, although he has been battling a foot injury himself.

The key for the Sixers in the series will be their secondary players. Tobias Harris has to continue his stellar play from the Brooklyn series. He should see plenty of good looks as the Sixers move the ball and if Harden is able to find him in open space.

For the series, Harris averaged 20.3 points and 8.8 rebounds per game and the team will surely need those numbers going forward in the playoffs. What wasn’t expected from Harris was his shooting. He shot 56.7% from the floor, 57.1% on his three-point attempts, and 100% from the free-throw line. If he’s able to keep that up, as the fourth option on the team, the Sixers should be able to win.

Philadelphia 76ers forward Tobias Harris (12) drives against Washington Wizards guard Bradley Beal in the first half of an NBA basketball game, Monday, Oct. 31, 2022, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Tyrese Maxey might be the key to the whole series for the Sixers. Against the Nets, Maxey averaged 21.8 points and 5 rebounds per game while shooting 46.1% from the floor and 50% on his three-point attempts. With Embiid out, Maxey is going to have to step up even more. This will be easy for Maxey as he’s shown that he can score consistently when in the right position. That part will come down to head coach Doc Rivers.

In order for Maxey to operate at a maximum level, he can’t be running the point guard position when Harden isn’t on the floor. Shake Milton has to see more minutes than the seven he saw in the Brooklyn series. You read that right, seven minutes, total.

Milton, in the final three games of the year, saw over 35 minutes in those games and responded with 15.3 points and 11.3 assists per game. He’s shown that he’s able to run the offense as the point guard, freeing up Maxey to move without the ball and not having defenses focus on him. If Milton doesn’t see the reserve point guard minutes, the Sixers may be looking at a quick exit from round two.

Spotlight on the Celtics

The Celtics won their opening-round series against the Atlanta Hawks, four games to two. Having the second-best record in the NBA and looking to return to the NBA Finals for the second straight year, the Celtics were supposed to easily dispatch of the Hawks. That didn’t happen as Hawks guard Trae Young, almost singlehandedly helped beat the Celtics in two of the games. It’s not as if the Celtics aren’t beatable.

Boston Celtics guard Marcus Smart (36) dribbles against Atlanta Hawks guard Trae Young (11) during the first half of Game 4 of a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, Sunday, April 23, 2023, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

What the Celtics do have is a very deep team. Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, and Malcolm Brogdon all see lots of minutes and can all score in bunches. Tatum has averaged 27.2 points, 10 rebounds, and 5.3 assists per game through six playoff games this season. He’s continued a stellar regular season in leading the Celtics and will need to be even better if they’re going to beat the Sixers.

Jaylen Brown should be the key for the Celtics as he’s been just as good as Tatum, averaging 26.7 points per game in their first-round series. Where Brown has stood out is his shooting as he has hit on 54.1% of his field goal attempts and 51.5% of his three-point attempts. If the Sixers don’t figure out a way to defend Brown, especially from beyond the three-point line, this series could be over quickly.

Aside from Brown and Tatum, having to deal with Marcus Smart and Derrick White can be equally as terrifying. White is averaging 17.3 points per game on 55.7% shooting and 45.7% on his three-point attempts.

Smart is right behind him with 16.7 points per game on 49.3% shooting and 38.5% on his three-point attempts. Those are tough numbers to defend but if you look at the two of them combined, they’re also averaging 8.1 rebounds and 8.7 assists. The Celtics can truly come at you from all over the place.

They’ll need to utilize all of their guards and speed in order to get past the Sixers’ defense as they’re one of the best teams at defending the three-point shot.

What to look for in Boston

You can start looking for Joel Embiid, while he was seen practicing with the team and seemed to be in good spirits, the LCL sprain he suffered against Brooklyn has been deemed more serious than initially thought. This has been routine for Embiid as he’s taken a beating in the past, throughout the season, but especially in the playoffs. Embiid is listed as doubtful for Game 1 and will be replaced by Paul Reed.

With Embiid off the floor, the Sixers need to step up their defense and can’t afford to make many mistakes against the talented Celtics. The Celtics aren’t prefect though.

As seen in the Hawks series, the Celtics are beatable and the Sixers have a much more talented roster than the Hawks did. It’s a matter of how they’re being used. If the Sixers are going to try to steal a game in Boston, without Embiid, they’ll need to make some changes to how they play and how they use their rotation.

This has never been the strong suit of Head Coach Doc Rivers. After years of misusing players, not changing during and prior to games, and surrendering 3-1 leads in series, the coach came through when the Sixers needed him most against Brooklyn.

He recognized Paul Reed was the right replacement, removed him when he got in early foul trouble, let him rest, and then come back in to close out the series in spectacular fashion. This is the series that could define Rivers and it seems as though he’s turned a corner in trusting his players and making the adjustments the team needs to succeed.

Prediction: Sixers 109 – Celtics 117

AP Photo/Frank Franklin II