Atlantic Division nemeses meet as the first-placed Philadelphia 76ers (34-16) take on the middling Boston Celtics (25-25). The NBA betting lines have the Sixers as only very slight favorites, despite Philadelphia being 2-0 against Boston.
Joel Embiid has been exacting vengeance on the Celtics for the playoffs sweep last season. He’s posting 40 points, 10.5 boards, and shooting over 67% against them this season. But despite his efforts, Boston will finally get them back.
Philadelphia 76ers from Beyond the Arc
The Philadelphia 76ers are having their best season since a certain fellow named Allen Iverson dominated the league and won the MVP. That was 20 years ago when the Sixers finished first in the East. Now, they’re back in a similar spot.
The Sixers are riding the NBA’s best all-around defense in the league. Led by G Ben Simmons, the Sixers are ranked in the top ten in three of the main four defensive factors including limiting teams to just 52 effective field goal percent (EFG%).
Simmons along with Embiid form one of the best one-two defensive and scoring punches in the league (Simmons’ scoring woes notwithstanding). Inside, the two are a chore to stop and when Philly’s shooters are on point, this team can beat anyone.
But that’s also where the Sixers’ achilles is: perimeter shooting. The Sixers have made the fifth-fewest three-pointers in the NBA. They’re usually outshot in this category and many of their significant losses have come from here.
Boston Celtics: Hit Them Where It Hurts
The Boston Celtics are only a .500 team this season but they’ve mostly been lined as a betting favorite. Even against Philly, they’re at pick’em odds. Credit that to the top-shelf talent it has. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker are one of the best “Big Threes” in the league.
The trio account for 8.3 of Boston’s 13.2 threes per game along with 67.4 of their 112.4 points. That’s about three-fifth of the production on both ends. Thankfully, there is rarely a game where all three play terribly.
Boston has struggled this season due to a leaky defense and subpar production from everyone outside of their main scoring options. The Celtics are filled with youngsters who lack NBA experience and you can see it with their sloppy play on defense.
The Celtics are giving up the fifth-most fouls in the league and are sending opponents to the line almost 24 times a night, the fifth-most in the league. The onus is on the team’s top players to continue carrying the team as their structure looks too much like the Eastern Conference standings.
It’s been all Embiid and all Philadelphia when these teams met this season. The Sixers won by eight and by a dozen as favorites on both ends. But it will be a different story in the TD Garden where Boston is 15-9 this season and 4-2 against Philadelphia dating back to the 2017-18 season: the start of the Embiid-Simmons era.
The Celtics are a little bit better and more accurate at home. But more importantly, they play better defense and limit opponents to five fewer points at home. On the flipside, Philly is averaging seven fewer points on the road although their defense tightens.
Embiid’s stats go down across the board on the road. I don’t expect him to be scoring another 40-point game here though he’ll still make an impact. Likewise, the Sixers’ three-point shooting could let them down here while Boston carries them.
Boston should outshoot the Sixers here. This will be their most emphatic victory since they took out the Clippers before the All-Star break. On a side bet, take the under 223.