Celtics vs. 76ers Playoff Preview: Matchup Analysis
This matchup between the Sixers and Celtics promises to offer a lot of excitement. OK, so maybe excitement might not be the word, but it will be if you are a basketball purist. Both teams are known for their hallmark defense, and expect the scoring to be low in this series. Vegas oddsmakers set the total for tonight’s game at 170, which means fans will be treated to a game in which neither team is likely to score 90 points.
But I like defense, and I like hard work. And both the Sixers and Celtics offer that. Philadelphia became only the third #8 seed to defeat a #1, but it came at the cost of the Bulls losing last year’s MVP Derrick Rose not only for the Playoffs but also likely for the majority of next season. So, it is an 8 over 1 with a huge asterisk. But I am hardly suggesting you should count the Sixers out of this. Doug Collins is a premier coach, and Doc Rivers is as well, so keep an eye on the strategies involved in this one.
Let’s take a look at a position by position breakdown of the matchup between these teams:
Point Guard: Rajon Rondo vs. Jrue Holiday
Rondo has the upper hand, there is no denying that, but don’t sleep on Holiday. Holiday is a career 37.7% three point shooter, and Rondo can’t just go over every screen, because Holiday has speed too. It’s defensively that Holiday may have trouble with Rondo, as most point guards do. Rondo’s speed and versatility will make him a difficult matchup for Holiday and he’ll also have to worry about the Celtics floor general sneaking in for a lot of the long rebounds that he typically snags. Rondo could put up a couple triple doubles in this series and should be in for a good one. I’m hardly saying Holiday is going to roll over here, but he’s just not on Rondo’s level.
Shooting Guard: Ray Allen vs. Evan Turner
Turner has made great strides in his second year, but he’s in for a schooling here, most likely. Allen has saved his best for the Playoffs and though he’s been coming off the bench, he is the true starting two guard for the Celtics. His shooting should give Turner fits, but Turner will look to use his superior athleticism and slashing abilities to get to the paint and finish and draw fouls on the Celtics’ big men. With Kevin Garnett aging and Ryan Hollins quite mediocre, Turner should be able to score a lot at the hole…Just not more than Allen. Turner is slowly becoming a fringe all star type player, but Allen is a multiple time All-Star and whether or not Turner reaches that level is still yet to be decided.
Small Forward: Paul Pierce vs. Andre Iguodala
Ostensibly, one would figure the Celtics have a huge advantage here. “The Truth” has been playing superb ball and remains one of the players that the Celts can count on in crunch time. It’s just that there is a small problem: Andre Igoudala has historically shut Pierce down. Typically, no matter what the Vegas over/under is on a Paul Pierce prop bet for scoring, when he faces Iguodala, I bet the under. Iggy has All NBA defensive skills, and he’ll need them to slow Pierce. Iguodala is not much of a scorer anymore, but will still put up his typical 12 to 15 a game, which is enough if he holds Pierce to 18 or less.
Advantage: Celtics, by a hair
Power Forward: Brandon Bass vs. Elton Brand
Both these power forwards are undersized, but both also work very hard, and Bass has great athleticism that could give the aged Brand some problems. Neither are focal points of their teams offenses, but both can still put the ball in the basket. At one time, Brand was a top 10 fantasy basketball player in the league, but his skill set has regressed, primarily due to the serious knee injury he had a few seasons ago. He has some left in the tank, just not a ton. Still, Brand’s skill set is superior and he has the experience. I give the edge to the Sixers here, but it is easily the least important matchup of the starting five.
Center: Kevin Garnett vs. Spencer Hawes
Hawes has proven himself to be a decent NBA center and is capable of hitting the three as well as passing the ball very well. Garnett has aged tremendously, but still put up 28 points and snagged 14 boards in the game six win over the Hawks. That shows he can do it. Garnett’s knees are rickety and old, but he still finds a way to get it done with his length and high basketball IQ. He should have no problem limiting Hawes to very few points, while using his jumpshot on offense to keep Hawes away from the hole (Hawes is a fair shot blocker, so this will help). Six or seven years ago, I would have pitied Hawes in this matchup. And you know what? I still do. Garnett should have a field day against Hawes.
Bench Keyon Dooling / Avery Bradley / Mickael Pietrus / Ryan Hollins vs. Lou Williams / Jodie Meeks / Sam Young / Thaddeus Young
One of the Sixers main strengths is their bench. The Celts don’t have the greatest bench. Lou Williams led the Sixers in scoring off the bench and is always capable of big games, and Jodie Meeks can fill it up when he gets hot too. Young could start on about half the teams in the league, and averaged 12 points per game this year while shooting over 50% from the floor for the second year straight. The Celtics second unit will have no answer for them, and that could end up allowing the Sixers to steal a couple games, or at the very least leave Doc Rivers forced to play his starters for extended minutes. If the Sixers win this series, or even just a couple games in it, their bench may be the reason why.
Coach: Doug Collins vs. Doc Rivers
Both coaches are known for employing tough and stingy defenses. Both coaches get the most out of their players, maximizing the talents of each and every player on the roster. They are great at drawing up plays, and Rivers’ experience as an NBA point guard renders him very capable of drawing up great plays for Rajon Rondo to execute. Collins had a great playing career in his own right, and I always feel that ex-players make the best coaches.
Overall, the Sixers are just going to have to play out of their mind well to win this series. They are going to have to get a lot from their bench, and play superb defense. The Celtics? They just need to milk the advantages they have. Four of the five starters get the edge, and the only advantage the Sixers have is their bench. If Young and Lou Williams get off, the Celts could have some problems, but I just don’t see having a superior bench as a good reason to predict an upset here.
Prediction: Celtics in 5