The Celtics have advanced to the Eastern Conference semifinals for the second straight season after eliminating the Atlanta Hawks in Game 6 Thursday night.
Boston will now face the Philadelphia 76ers in the second-round, which is going to be the fourth time that these two teams are going to battle each other in the postseason over the past 11 years, as this rivalry goes back decades to the days of Bill Russell and Wilt Chamberlain in the 1960s.
While the Celtics are heavy favorites once again and own a 8-1 record against Philly in the playoff since the beginning of the Joel Embiid era, lets take a look at the head-to-head between these two franchises ahead of their best-of-7 series.
It's been a few years since Boston and the Sixers have met in the postseason, in fact the last time was in the bubble during the 2019-20 campaign that ended in a sweep and Al Horford played his lone year with the enemy. In the last three years, Philadelphia has never gotten past the second round, while the Celtics have made two trips to the Eastern Conference Finals and of course last season's run to the NBA Finals.
This time around the No. 2 seeded Celtics (57-25) have home court advantage once again to start the series against the No. 3 seeded Sixers (54-28) after beating them 3-1 in the regular season.
The lone 76ers win over Boston came on April 4 in a 103-101 victory -- their last time they faced off and Embiid recorded 52-point, 13-rebound and six-assist performance with Jaylen Brown being out.
In four games during the regular season against the Sixers, the Celtics averaged 117.9 points on 47.5% from the field, 37.7% from deep to go along with 45.6 rebounds, 26.7 assists and 5.2 blocks per contest.
Philadelphia averaged 115.2 points on 48.7% shooting from the floor, 38.7% on 3-pointers made to go along with 40.9 rebounds, 25.2 assists and 3.7 blocks per game.
While Embiid is out for Game 1 with a LCL sprain in his right knee, the Sixers most likely will play at a faster pace with James Harden being the head of the snake in Doc Rivers' offense. However, they're going to miss their All-Star big man's 33.1 points, 10.2 rebounds and 4.2 assists average.
Harden, who led the league with 10.7 dimes per game this year will have to step up his scoring from his 21.0 point average this past season, even if he isn't prime Houston Rocket Harden anymore. Look for Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey to increase their touches to keep up with the Celtics depth.
Still, Boston has to maintain the poise that was seen in the first two games against the Hawks in round one regardless if Embiid plays or not.
"I'm excited," Malcolm Brogdon said to reporters Saturday. "Philly's one of the big dogs. They're a contender. We respect them with or without Joel. They're a really good team, so we're gonna come out and play good basketball."
With the Milwaukee Bucks being eliminated early and the Celtics becoming the odds-on favorite to not only come out of the East but win it all, they have to main focus and not play down to their competition.
"I mean, really at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how they play," C's head coach Joe Mazzulla said during his media presser Saturday. "We have to be prepared to make the right reads. we have to be prepared to have the proper spacing, we have to be prepared to manage the game with our offense."
Despite Jayson Tatum not having a gem performance against the Hawks, the wing did average 27.2 points on 45.3% from the field, 35.0% from 3-point range, 10.0 rebounds and 5.3 dimes in six games. Jaylen Brown, who scored 30-plus in the last three outings against Atlanta, is averaging 26.7 points so far in the postseason -- while shooting a super efficient 50% from the floor and from behind the arc.
There isn't one player on the Sixers that can stop either Celtics star, as Tatum and Brown have to take full advantage by scoring in a multitude of ways.
The three guards of Marcus Smart, Derrick White and Brogdon (reigning Sixth Man of the Year) are going to have to neutralize Harden and Maxey while providing offense to free up Tatum and Brown.
Of course, last but not least -- slowing Embiid down and manning the paint starts with the Celtics big man depth of Al Horford, Robert Williams and yes...even Grant Williams (should get some playing time in this series). Look for Horford or Grant to have a game or two where they catch fire from 3 as well.
The Celtics are at their best when they get stops and score in transition while making the extra pass to find a better shot. With that said, Boston shot over 50% against the Hawks and over 40% from 3, while coming up with 6.5 steals per contest and 27.3 assists -- simply put good defense leads to great offense.
If Boston has learned not to overlook their opponent like they did in Game 3 and Game 5 in the first round, the C's should advance in no more than five games -- even if Embiid plays or not -- they've had the Sixers' number over the last four to five years and this series shouldn't be any different.
Game 1 tips off tonight from TD Garden at 7:30 ET on TNT.
Photo used courtesy Getty Images
Photo used courtesy Getty Images