Philadelphia may be known as “The City of Brotherly Love” but there is no love lost for their upcoming opponents, the Boston Celtics.
As a matter of fact, there is a rivalry between these two teams that is alive and well. The 21st century addition of 76ers-Celtics may not have as much tension and hatred as the Dr. J-Larry Bird days, but there is some palpable tension between the two teams.
For their part, the Celtics lost the season series to the Philadelphia 76ers by a four games to three margin. In what seems like eons ago, Boston defeated Philadelphia on February 1 by a 116-95 margin, which also was the last time these two teams played each other. With Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown playing at a high level, and Gordon Hayward finally playing to his capabilities, Boston is firing on all cylinders.
How can Boston gain the upper hand in the series?
Continuing to involve Gordon Hayward: Everybody knows that Tatum and Brown are the engine that makes the Celtics run. Hayward in his own right has been what Boston thought they were getting pre-injury. Ever since entering the NBA bubble, he has taken his play to a different level.
Scoring at least 15 points in five of the seven games he has played since the restart, Hayward has also managed to do it efficiently. In addition, he is driving into the lane, and forcing teams to collapse inside. This leaves the likes of Tatum and Brown open and helps spread the floor. He has been aggressive and impactful and has in some ways been the conductor of the Boston offense.
Establishing their dominance inside: With Joel Embiid out, that makes life difficult for the Philadelphia 76ers. That makes life a little bit easier for Boston as well. With old friend Al Horford the only real viable post-presence, this could work in Boston’s favor. Robert Williams has done well in the minutes he has been given. In the team’s game against Memphis on August 11 for example, he tallied 10 points and seven rebounds in 14 minutes.
Williams has shown flashes of brilliance in the bubble, and now it’s up to him to continue it. If the Celtics can get strong production from inside the paint, that will make them a viable threat from all areas of the floor offensively.
If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it- Tatum and Brown have carried the Celtics this season. Once draft picks that raised eyebrows because of how high they were selected, they have turned into bona fide superstars.
If Boston wants the upper hand in this series, they need to keep feeding the dynamic duo. Tatum was on a role in the second half of the season, averaging 30 points in the month of February. Now, Boston will need him to play at that same level as the bubble playoffs begin.
For his part, it seems as though Brown has taken his play to a new level in the bubble. Already having a strong season, it seems as though he has not missed a step. He has averaged 21.7 points in his last 10 games, seven of those in the bubble. He is the Robin to Tatum’s Batman.
If the Celtics want the upper hand in the series, they need to keep feeding the dynamic duo, in order to defeat the villain in their story on the basketball court.
Pick: Celtics 4-1. The 76ers will win one game to make it interesting, but otherwise, for Boston, this series will be a mere appetizer to the full-course meal against the Toronto Raptors in the next round.