A few thoughts as we finish this interminable wait for tonight's Game 1 of Sixers-Celtics …
1) We talked a lot about physicality last series with regard to the Heat, but I would expect a similar series out of the Celtics, who had one of the best defenses in the NBA during the regular season and who feature a host of physical defenders, with Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart cut from the same molds as James Johnson and Justise Winslow (on the defensive end, at least). The Celtics held opponents to fewer than 100 points in 41 games this season and won 36 of them. For comparison's sake, the Sixers held opponents to fewer than 100 in 22 games and won all of them.
2) The Celtics have listed second-year forward Jaylen Brown as doubtful with a hamstring injury he suffered in their Game 7 win over the Bucks. Brown is one of those "X" factors that has a chance to single-handedly tilt a series, given his combination of size, strength and shooting ability. If he misses Game 1, it will be interesting to see what way coach Brad Stevens turns to replace him. When you look through the option, you see just how much Ben Simmons' unique blend of size and ball-handling complicates a coach's decision-making process.
The table below is a breakdown of the individual defensive matchups the Celtics used the last time they faced the Sixers, as recorded by NBA.com. As you can see, Boston leaned heavily on a rotation of Marcus Morris and Al Horford, with those two players combining to match up against Simmons on 35 of 69 possessions. But with Brown out, the Celtics could need Jayson Tatum to match up against Robert Covington, which would leave Boston still needing to guard Dario Saric, whom Tatum drew plenty of work against in mid-January.
# of possessions, Sixers offense vs. Celtics defense
One player who could play a pivotal role is Smart, who faced Simmons for 12 possessions in January and is the kind of physical guard who might be able to pull off extended duty. One option Stevens has is to go small and pair Smart with Terry Rozier in the backcourt and have Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and either Marcus Morris or Semi Ojeleye round out the starting five.
In tabular form …
Celtics w/ Jaylen Brown
Celtics w/o Jaylen Brown…
3) The Celtics differ from the Heat in at least one critical regard: They have a five-man who can knock down three-point shots. That's a weapon a team can use to draw Joel Embiid away from the rim, freeing up the paint for the penetrators.
Al Horford shot 42.9 percent and averaged 3.1 attempts from three-point range during the regular season. In his first meeting against Embiid this season, he attempted a season-high seven threes. In the most recent meeting, he attempted four.
When Brown is healthy, the Celtics feature three-point shooters at all five positions, with Rozier, Brown, Morris, Horford and Tatum averaging at least three attempts per game at a 36.8+ percent conversion rate. That's what they lose when Smart is on the court: He has connected on just 30.1 percent of his long-distance attempts this year.