Two Atlantic Division rivals square off in the first round of the NBA Playoffs as the postseason in the Orlando bubble finally starts to get underway after several weeks of determining seeding. This will be the second time in the last three years these two teams square off in the playoffs. In 2018, the Boston Celtics, led by Terry Rozier and a rookie in Jayson Tatum, defeated the Philadelphia 76ers in the second round in five games to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The 76ers come into this series as the sixth seed looking to win a first-round series for the third year in a row. Last year, the Sixers lost in seven games to the eventual NBA champion Toronto Raptors as Kawhi Leonard hit a buzzer beater at the end of Game 7 to send the Sixers packing.
The Sixers were inconsistent during the regular season, highlighted by their dominant win over the Milwaukee Bucks on Christmas Day followed by a loss to the Orlando Magic. The Sixers’ go-to scorer is injury-prone but they do have a dominant center in Joel Embiid. He has missed 21 games this season with various injuries but in the games he played, he averaged 23 points per game (PPG) and 11.6 rebounds per game (RPG). Forward Tobias Harris has played in all but one of their games, averaging 19.6 PPG.
Point guard Ben Simmons averaged an impressive 16.4 PPG, 7.8 RPG and 8 assists per game (APG). However, he has left the bubble to receive season-ending knee surgery. Sharp shooter Shake Milton will take his place at the guard spot. The Sixers went 4-4 in the seeding games.
The Celtics have a top-heavy roster with fantastic chemistry since the Celtics let point guard Kyrie Irving leave to sign with the Brooklyn Nets after the Celtics were bounced in five games by the Bucks in the second round last year.
They signed former Charlotte Hornets point guard Kemba Walker and the offense has been explosive and cohesive all season long. Tatum is developing into a bona fide star, scoring 23.4 PPG. Walker is averaging 20.4 PPG with forward Jaylen Brown averaging 20.3 PPG. The Celtics have multiple go-to scorers and are a tough out. They went 5-3, the only team to defeat the Raptors in the Orlando bubble so far.
When healthy, Embiid has been a force for the Sixers this season and with the Celtics lacking size in the paint, Embiid will have a field day against the Celtics. The Sixers, despite losing Simmons, still have plenty of shooting depth across the roster and can win shootouts against nearly any team they play. Despite this, the Celtics have too much talent and firepower in their starting lineup for the Sixers to overcome. This series will be closer than people may think but the Celtics will get the job done and move on to the second round.
Prediction: Celtics in 7