June 7, 2023

We Meet Again — 76ers vs Celtics Eastern Conference Semi Finals Preview


Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images

After a 4 game sweep of the Brooklyn Nets, the Philadelphia 76ers will face a familiar foe in the second round of the playoffs in the Boston Celtics.

The Celtics somewhat struggled with the Atlanta Hawks in their first round, but ultimately the Celtics won the series in 6 games. Will this finally be the season the Sixers make it past the second round? The Celtics have had the Sixers’ number in past playoff matchups, but hopefully, this one will be different.

Joel Embiid’s Injury

In game 3 of the Nets series, Joel Embiid suffered an LCL sprain that kept him out of game 4. Even after 10 days of rest, Embiid has been listed as “Doubtful” for game 1 of this series. While it is positive that he was not listed as out, there have been rumors that he could miss both games 1 and 2. This would be a nightmare scenario for the Sixers.

Embiid was seen shooting around at Sunday’s practice and was also seen boarding the team plane. While it did not seem like Embiid was a full participant in practice, him being on the court was an extremely positive sign.

This is not the first year that Embiid has struggled with injuries in the postseason. In last year’s postseason, he played through a hand injury and a broken orbital bone. In the 2021 postseason, Embiid had to play through a torn meniscus, among others. Unfortunately at this point, it’s hard to believe that we will ever get a fully healthy Embiid postseason run. It just seems like every year something happens, and it’s hard not to feel bad for the Sixers star.

Whether or not Embiid is going to be even 75% of himself in this series, the Sixers are going to need every percentage of that to win. Embiid has dominated the Celtics so far this season, including a 52-point performance at the end of the regular season, but it has not yielded a ton of team success. The Sixers are just 1-3 vs the Celtics this season. Luckily for Embiid, the Celtics’ post defenders are on the smaller side. While Embiid has struggled with Horfard in the past, that has not been the case this season. If the Sixers can get Embiid for 6 games this series I believe they have a chance, but anything less than that unfortunately could be the end of the Sixers’ season.

Time for Harden and Maxey to Earn Their Money

With Embiid nursing an injury, it’s time for James Harden and Tyrese Maxey to earn their upcoming contracts. One common theme in past postseason losses is the Sixers’ secondary players shrinking when it matters most. While Embiid has been injured the past few seasons, the other “star” players have never picked up the slack. That needs to change this time around.

With his future in Philadelphia in doubt, the Sixers need James Harden to somewhat turn back the clock for a few games. While Harden has been fantastic this season in his role, they might need his scoring to up a little bit in this series. Against the Nets Harden was great from three, but really struggled once he got into the paint. He had a ton of success getting to the circle, but could not finish around the rim. Harden also struggled to get to the foul line last series, which is very uncharacteristic. Hopefully, after a 9-day layoff, his legs will be fresher, and he can turn back the scoring clock just a little bit.

Harden was seen in Las Vegas Monday night slapping a member of his crew outside of a nightclub. The Sixers did not have any practices that day, and it seems he took the time off to go to Las Vegas. While this is a non-story, it does add fuel to the fire of the narrative that he cares more about his party life than his basketball success. If Harden has a bad first game, or a bad series, his trip to Las Vegas may become a much bigger story.

After a great first-round series for Tyrese Maxey, the same should be expected in round 2. Maxey is eligible for an extension this offseason, and he has to earn that in this series. While he is still young, he is not young enough that he should not be expected to produce in these types of situations. In this season against the Celtics Maxey has really struggled scoring just 10 points per game. While some of that is Embiid’s domination, most are that the Celtics have done a good job of guarding him. Maxey could earn himself a lot of money this series, and the Sixers are going to need him.

The NBA is Wide Open

This may be the Sixers’ best chance to win a title in the Joel Embiid era. With the Bucks losing in the first round, whoever wins this series will have home-court advantage in the Eastern Conference Finals against either the Knicks or Heat. While Jimmy Butler is a terrifying opponent, both the Sixers and Celtics would be favorites in either series. Even with the Warriors advancing past the Kings, the Western Conference seems about as wide open as it has been in recent memory. If the Sixers were to win the Eastern Conference, they would have home court advantage against any opponent they faced. If the Sixers were able to find a way to beat the Celtics, they may be the favorites to win the title.

This series will have a massive impact on the future of the 76ers organization. The Sixers have famously not advanced past the second round of the playoffs since 2001. If they fail to do so again there may be a new head coach, and new star players next to Embiid next season. The Sixers have an opportunity to finally get rid of the demons that have haunted them for so long.

Game Times and Broadcasts

*: if necessary

Game 1: Monday, May 1 at 7:30pm ET in Boston on TNT, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 2: Wednesday, May 3 at 8:00pm ET in Boston on TNT, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 3: Friday, May 5 at 7:30pm ET in Philadelphia on ESPN, 97.5 The Fanatic
Game 4: Sunday, May 7 at 3:30pm ET in Philadelphia on ESPN, 97.5 The Fanatic
*Game 5: Tuesday, May 9 at TBD in Boston on TBD
*Game 6: Thursday, May 11 at TBD in Philadelphia on TBD
*Game 7: Sunday, May 14 at TBD in Boston on TBD

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