Boston has been one of the most surprising teams in the NBA this season. The Celtics were supposed to be the best team in the Eastern Conference last year, but instead they sputtered with Kyrie Irving. They went 49-33 and should have been swept by the Milwaukee Bucks after sweeping the Indiana Pacers sans Victor Oladipo in the first round of the playoffs. Irving departed in the offseason, but it might have been a case of addition by subtraction as the Celtics have much better chemistry this campaign. They are hoping that will eventually lead them past the Toronto Raptors and Philadelphia 76ers in the Atlantic Division, and Boston will travel to the City of Brother Love to take on Philadelphia on Thursday night.
This game will take place at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Tip-off is scheduled for 7 p.m. ET on January 9, 2020, and the game will be broadcast on TNT.
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Head-To-Head Results to Date
These teams have already met twice this season, and Philadelphia had the upper hand in both previous games. The 76ers and Celtics met on opening night, and Philly cruised to a 107-93 victory in that game. Gordon Hayward notched 25 points on 8-15 shooting, but the rest of the team had an awful night from the floor. Boston’s other players combined to go 25-75 from the field and 11-23 from the free throw line.
Joel Embiid took over when these teams met last month in Boston. Embiid went 12 of 21 from the floor and pulled down 13 rebounds to lead the Sixers to a 115-109 win. He was lights out from the free throw line in that game, hitting 12 of 14 freebies, and he even sunk two threes to force Boston’s defense out of the paint. A similar performance would almost certainly lead to another Philadelphia victory on Thursday night.
Boston won’t have center Vincent Poirier available for this game as he continues to recover from a broken finger suffered three weeks ago. Shooting guard Romeo Langford is considered questionable with an illness, but the team is a little more optimistic that Kemba Walker will play after missing three games with the flu. Robert Williams is a game time decision with a hip injury, and Daniel Theis is a game time decision with a knee problem.
Embiid dislocated his finger on Monday night against Oklahoma City, and he is questionable to play in this game. He returned to the game against the Thunder after the injury, but he might want to take a couple games off to make sure the finger resets properly. Shooting guard Matisse Thybulle is questionable to play with a knee issue.
Player to Watch
Ben Simmons remains one of the most mystifying players in the game. Simmons has incredible instincts and knows how to drive the lane and dish well, making him one of the most talented point guards in the game. However, he is still reticent to shoot, and that is hampering the effectiveness of this offense.
After being harangued for his shooting the last two seasons, Simmons is gun shy when it comes to shooting from the perimeter. He has attempted just five threes all year, and three of those attempts were half court heaves. He hasn’t taken a shot from downtown in over a month, but Brett Brown is trying to convince his young guard to keep shooting.
Walker has helped young stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown get back on track after frustrating performances last year. He is more magnanimous with the ball than Irving and less likely to point fingers, so Tatum and Brown have flourished. Continuing to develop those two throughout the regular season is very important for Brad Stevens, and they will continue to see their roles expand in games like this one.
Embiid is the key here for Philadelphia. A lot of what Philly wants to do runs through their talented center, and he has a great matchup against Boston’s big men. He can outmuscle Tatum, Theis, or Enes Kanter, so Embiid should have a big game if he plays.
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