(Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports via Reuters/Bill Streicher)
The 76ers managed to avoid being swept by the Celtics with a 103-92 win on Monday, but they still have plenty of work to do to get themselves back into the series. They are down 3-1, and have a huge challenge to keep their season alive when they head to Boston on Wednesday.
Game 4 saw TJ McConnell come into the starting lineup at the expense of Robert Covington, and the guard provided a great spark for the 76ers with 19 points on 9-for-12 shooting, seven boards and five assists. At the other end of the floor, Boston struggled. Al Horford managed only ten points, Terry Rozier had 11 and Jaylen Brown just eight. The 76ers can expect things to be a lot tougher on Wednesday.
Three keys to the game
The star 76ers - Despite the Game 4 victory, both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons were still below their best. Simmons had 19 points, but dished out just five assists to go with four turnovers, while Embiid, who averaged 22.9 points over the course of the regular season, had just 15 points. Back in Boston, these two will need to put in better performances if they want to keep the series alive.
Turnovers - In the first three games, all of which Boston won, the 76ers had more turnovers, albeit by small margins. In Game 4, however, the tables turned completely. The Sixers coughed it up just eight times throughout the game, while the Celtics turned it over 15 times, and this was a major reason Philadelphia were able to keep the series alive.
The Bean Town effect - The Celtics were solid at home all season, although they actually won one more game on the road than they did in Boston. Since the playoffs tipped off though, they are 6-0 at TD Garden. In these games they have scored 111 points and conceded just 102 points per 100 possessions, giving them an overall net rating of 9.5 at home in the postseason to date.
Matchup to watch
Al Horford vs Joel Embiid - Though Aron Baynes spends some time on Embiid, the big Australian’s offense means Brad Stevens can’t afford to have him on the floor all game, and Horford is left to perform the undesirable task for large periods. So far this series though, Horford has been excellent. Aside from a Game 1 which saw Embiid put up 31 points, he hasn’t surpassed 22 points, and has shot 8-for-22, 10-for-26 and 6-for-15 in the past three outings.
At Boston’s offensive end, Horford exploded for 26 points on 10-for-12 shooting in Game 1, but since then has been typically consistent. In the ensuing games he has put up 12 points a night, grabbed 8.8 boards, dished out 3.0 assists, and added 1.5 blocks and a steal. His most important role in Game 5 will be at the defensive end though, and if he can keep Embiid to another relatively quiet game, the series will likely be over by Wednesday night.
Boston Celtics predicted starting lineup
PG - Terry Rozier | SG - Marcus Smart | SF - Jayson Tatum | PF - Al Horford | C - Aron Baynes
Philadelphia 76ers predicted starting lineup
PG - Ben Simmons | SG - TJ McConnell | SF - JJ Redick | PF - Dario Saric | C - Joel Embiid
Offensively, Tatum has been the form player of this series. The rookie has scored at least 20 points in all four games, averaging 23.3 points on 52.4% shooting to go with 3.5 boards and 3.0 assists. The 76ers haven’t appeared able to contain him, so expect him to have another big one in Game 4.
The 76ers are favorites in this game, reflective of a series which has seen betting agencies continually underestimate the Celtics. They have made the same mistake with this game, and Boston at the line of 1.5 is a solid bet. They are unbeaten at home in the playoffs, and the Sixers are well off their best.
This will be a close one, but the Celtics will be able to finish off the series on their home floor and earn themselves a spot against the Cavs in the conference finals. There’s no doubt the 76ers have more talent on the floor, but Simmons has struggled to put it together against Boston all season, not just in the playoffs, and Embiid is playing well below what he is capable of. The likelihood of them both showing a major turnaround in form is pretty low, and at the other end of the floor the Celtics will do just enough to get the job done. The home side will earn themselves a 101-97 victory, and end the young 76ers season.
The game will be broadcast nationally on TNT. Tip-off is at 8pm ET.