For the first three matchups of the 2019-2020 NBA season, the Philadelphia 76ers owned the Boston Celtics, winning by an average of almost 8 points. That all changed in February when the Celtics beat the Sixers by 21 points, and that was with a healthy Ben Simmons scoring 23 for Philadelphia.
The beat downs have continued in the playoffs, with the Celtics taking a 2 – 0 series lead with wins of 8 and 27 points over a team without their point guard, Ben Simmons and his 16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists and two steals a game.
In a typical year, those wins would have been in the Boston Garden, and the action would be returning to the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, where the Sixers were 31 – 3 this season. But that’s not the case, and the game will be played in the bubble in Orlando.
The chances for Philadelphia to win this series were fairly slim without Simmons, and they haven’t shown much fight with the exception of the third quarter in Game 1 of the series. The Celtics put up 34 in the fourth quarter that night and haven’t looked back since.
Without Simmons, Joel Embiid has done what he needed to do, scoring 26 and 34, respectively, but it still hasn’t been enough. Boston beat the spread in both wins, and the opening line was -4.5 for the Celtics for Game 3. It’s since moved to 5 and is almost certain to move higher as the game approaches. The over/under sits at 216, and the first two games were a split.
In NBA playoff history, 417 teams have jumped out to 2 – 0 leads, with 390 of them (93.5%) going on to win the series. In seven-game series, the record for the series leader is 288 – 21 (93.2%). Usually, conventional wisdom would have the home team with a good chance of winning Game 3 as they return home to a friendly arena and a raucous crowd.
But somehow, virtual fans projected on a screen around a neutral court is unlikely to translate to much of an advantage for the Sixers. They look like a tired, overmatched team and without the home court jolt, appear to be on their way to being swept.
Bad News for the Celtics
Long-term, the Celtics have shown they can take care of the Celtics without Gordon Hayward, who is expected to miss four weeks with his ankle injury sustained in Game 1. However, defeating the Raptors and Bucks will be very difficult while missing a player that plays over 33 minutes a game and averages 17.5 points and 6.7 rebounds.
The Celtics have good depth and a balanced attack, but there’s no question that their chances of emerging from the Eastern Conference took a big hit Monday night.
What can the Sixers do to turn the series around? First, Embiid needs to continue to put up big numbers and hope that the Celtics fail to compensate for the loss of Hayward. Second, they have to find a way to stop Jayson Tatum, who has put up 32 and 33 points in the first two games after averaging just over 23 on the season.
Finally, they will have to play a full 48 minutes of basketball, or the balanced offensive attack and defensive intensity of the Celtics will continue to wear down the Sixers.
As usual for a team down 2 – 0, Game 3 is a must-win for the Sixers, so perhaps they can use desperation to their advantage. Given the way the first two games have gone, I believe it will take a turnaround for the Sixers that I just don’t think they’re capable of.