The Celtics and Sixers teams who met in the Eastern Conference semifinals last season were both cut from the same cloth. Amazing defenses (the Celtics were #1 in DFR, Sixers #3), terrible offenses (Philly #21, Boston #25). This year, both squads are taking the more traditional statistical approach to mediocrity.
Instead of being lopsided in favor of defense, both the Sixers and the Celts have fallen back considerably on the defensive end of the floor and now hover in the middle of the pack on both ends. For the Sixers, the defensive regression was to be expected considering their personnel changes. The Celtics really didn't lose any impact defenders, so their dip is probably partially due to age, and partially just a byproduct of the same lackadaisical early season play we saw from them last year. Boston has to be wondering if they'll be able to flip the switch in the second half this season, and if it's even going to matter with the Knicks and Nets already separating themselves from the rest of the division. The Sixers, on the other hand, have to live in the moment and pick up as many wins as possible until they're a complete squad (if they're ever a complete squad).
Boston is one of the rare teams in the league who made a worse signing than the Sixers this past summer (Jeff Green's contract is worse than Hawes + Kwame any day of the week), but they also added a couple pieces that really fit on the perimeter. Jason Terry was made to play the Celtics' "path of least resistance" offense which basically consists of Rondo holding onto his dribble until he can find someone open for a 20-footer. That and Paul Pierce putting his head down, screeching at the top of his lungs when he gets close to the hoop, and getting bailed out by a bad whistle about 40% of the time. Yes, the Celtics are a pleasure to watch on the offensive end. Much like it's pure joy to watch Sixers bigs muff passes, fall away from the hoop and/or get pushed around by guys they have four inches and fifty pounds on.
There's a premiere matchup to watch over the next two days: Jrue vs. Rondo. The first thing I'm going to say about this matchup is I hope I don't see a whole lot of it when the Celtics have the ball. Put Turner on Rondo, Richardson on Pierce and Jrue on Terry. Jrue's much better at chasing shooting guards through screens and denying the pass. Turner gets lost in those situations more often than not. Plus, I think it's in the team's best interests to keep Jrue away from the cheap shot screens Rondo will run his man through all night long. They're going to need him to have his legs for about 80 minutes over the next two nights, give him a break on the defensive end.
Boston is averaging 23.1 long twos per game so far this season and shooting 44.9% on those attempts (second-best in the league). Jason Terry is shooting an unconscious 55% on such attempts. The good news is Garnett's jumper isn't connecting at it's usual high rate.
In the past, these games were pretty much decided by how well the Celtics bigs shot the 20-footers the Sixers gave them all night long on the pick-and-pop. If Bass and Garnett were knocking them down, the Sixers were in trouble. If they weren't, the Sixers probably had a decent handle on the game. The Celtics basically have two threats from three in Paul Pierce and Jason Terry (both shooting above average, but not great from deep.) The one area where I think the Sixers will get in trouble is if they put Turner on Pierce. Pierce will bully him mercilessly and get a ton of high-percentage shots. I like Richardson and Wright to split the time covering Pierce.
Like pretty much every game, Jrue has to be on for the Sixers to have a shot. This first game is huge, because the Celtics have extremely old legs. Get this win tonight and you've got a better than decent shot at sweeping the back-to-back and getting to the high-water mark of plus-four over .500. But you have to win the first...well, first.
The tip is at 7pm tonight on ESPN. Use this as your game thread.
Here's my question for the day: As currently constructed, without Bynum, exactly where do the Sixers stand against the rest of the Eastern Conference? Top 8? Lottery team? Ahead of Boston or behind?