Every morning, we compile the links of the day and dump them here… highlighting the big story line. Because there’s nothing quite as satisfying as a good morning dump.
Twenty-one months ago, Kemba Walker dropped a career high 60 points on the Philadelphia 76ers, so it would be a bit shortsighted to suggest that Walker has any sort of a Philly problem.
But here’s the reality from Walker’s first season in Boston: In three games against the Sixers, Walker shot a mere 37.3 percent overall. He averaged 22.3 points but on 19.7 shots per game. The Celtics owned a team-worst net rating of minus-17.7 during Walker’s 103 minutes of floor time against Philadelphia, a span in which the Celtics were outscored by a total of 34 points. Boston went 0-3 in those games.
While Walker’s performance during seeding games eased concerns about the balky left knee that hindered him before the 2019-20 season paused, one of the big questions for Boston entering a first-round series against the 76ers is whether Walker can play to his All-Star standards and spearhead Boston’s offense against a team that often flustered the Celtics with its size and length this season.
NBC Sports Boston: Celtics-76ers Preview: Can Kemba Walker break out of his Philly slump?
Horford is at his best while quarterbacking from the post. He has also found his groove playing alongside Embiid of late.
The belief was that Embiid and Horford couldn’t coexist. However, the problem came about when Embiid, Horford, and Simmons were on the floor at the same time. One can argue the spacing was bad because Simmons was hesitant to shoot from the perimeter. So opponents packed the paint.
The spacing wasn’t a problem in Horford’s first game back in the starting lineup on Aug. 7. With Simmons out, he and Embiid played well together in a 108-101 victory over the Orlando Magic. Embiid finished with 23 points and 13 rebounds, while Horford had 21 points and nine rebounds.
Philadelphia Inquirer: Boston Celtics know firsthand what former teammate Al Horford brings to Sixers
The playoff series is Boston vs. Philadelphia, not Kemba Walker vs. Al Horford. Nevertheless, after they both changed teams last year, the spotlight is going to be on them perhaps more than anyone else.
Kemba came to Boston as the All-Star point guard we hoped would help wipe away the stains of last season. He was brilliant in the first couple of months, faltered when he started to have knee soreness, and got back into form while under a minutes restriction in the bubble. The last couple of games, Kemba looked like his healthy self – draining pullup threes, stopping on a dime for his stepback jumper, and enjoying being on the court.
In eight seasons in Charlotte, Kemba went to the playoffs twice but never won a series. In 2014, Miami swept Charlotte, and the following year the Hornets led the Heat 3-2 but lost in 7.
With the Celtics, Kemba finally has a legit chance to taste playoff success, with many more eyes on him in Boston green than when he wore Charlotte teal. Kemba is known as a clutch shooter, and I believe he’ll add to that reputation now on the big stage.
As for Horford, it’s a shame this series is not being played in front of fans. Imagine how much booing Al would get in a playoff game at the Garden? The Boston fans were nice to him during regular season meetings, but the playoff atmosphere turns the dial up to 11. After he left Atlanta, Al didn’t play very well in his first couple of return visits. Seemed like the booing bothered him a bit. If you can’t deal with an ATL crowd, you have no chance in front of a Boston crowd.
Because Horford hasn’t been a good fit with the Sixers, and because of his ginormous salary, the Philly fans have turned on him. It’s ironic – he bolted from Boston after going through a season of dysfunction, only to land where there’s also turmoil and underachievement. It’s fair to wonder if that’s a coincidence or if he had something to do with that.
Anyway, the postseason gives Al a second chance. Maybe he fits better now that Simmons is out of the equation. Maybe Playoff Al shows up. Maybe Horford gets revenge on all the sports talk jackholes who called him Average Al.
For Celtics fans: It was bad enough that Philly poached Al from Boston – if he now comes back to haunt us, that will hurt for a long time.
A first-round loss would be devastating to either Kemba or Al, and their teams, especially in context of the Boston-Philly rivalry. The one who responds best to that pressure will advance to round two with a validating victory.
On Page 2: Analyze this
(Jay) King: There’s been a lot written over the years about Simmons’ less than ideal fit with Embiid. They aren’t perfect for each other. The 76ers are still far diminished without Simmons, especially in this Celtics matchup. Simmons mashed the Celtics this season in transition. He’s bigger, taller and maybe faster than anyone in their starting five. His defensive absence will also matter a whole lot against all of Boston’s wings – that may be where he’s missed the most. The upside is that the 76ers will have more shooting, but the talent downgrade from Simmons to his replacements is huge.
Can the Celtics’ wings overwhelm Philadelphia?
One of Philadelphia’s biggest issues: How will a combination of Thybulle, Josh Richardson, Alec Burks and Furkan Korkmaz deal with the four-headed monster of Walker, Brown, Tatum and Hayward? Richardson and Thybulle are admirable defenders. Korkmaz can shoot. Burks has had some nice moments. But the Celtics have three All-Star-level wings and an All-Star point guard. That’s a lot of firepower, especially facing a team missing its best wing defender.
Postseason adversity is the real test of team culture. Boston seems ready.
Friday was the day when seemingly all media rolled out their previews and analyses of the Boston-Philly matchup. The main topics boiled down to: how will Ben Simmons’ injury affect the Sixers? (they’ll miss him most on defense); can the Cs control Joel Embiid? (they probably won’t, but Philly needs him to dominate to have any chance); will Rob Williams be in the rotation? (it seems like he’s earned that); and how will the Sixers manage to guard Boston’s core of prolific scorers? (they probably can’t).
Another thing: it seems everyone – even some Philly media – is picking the Celtics to win in 5 or 6 games.
Oddsmakers are pretty confident the Celtics will win their fifth straight playoff series versus the Sixers. Here are the latest betting lines for this Round 1 matchup, courtesy of DraftKings Sportsbook.
Celtics to win series: -375
76ers to win series: +270
ESPN’s Basketball Power Index also likes the Celtics to advance, giving Boston a 72 percent chance of eliminating the Sixers. In fairness to the 76ers, they do still have a talented team without Simmons. Embiid is one of the league’s best centers, Tobias Harris can score 20-plus points any night and Al Horford does a little bit of everything.
That said, the Celtics absolutely should beat the shorthanded Sixers in Round 1. Boston has more shooting, a deeper roster, much better coaching and is playing better in the bubble than its longtime rival.
NBC Sports Boston: NBA odds: Celtics already huge favorites in playoff series vs. 76ers
As a fan who takes nothing for granted, I find all this certainty a bit scary. I’m hoping the Celtics aren’t hearing this and thinking they can just show up. So far, at least, they appear focused…
But the Celtics are still wary of the 76ers team that remains. They still have MVP-caliber center Joel Embiid, effective forward Tobias Harris, staunch defender Josh Richardson and former Celtic Al Horford. So Philadelphia has the Celtics’ full attention.
…but let’s see what happens. The Sixers won three of the four meetings pre-bubble, and although the loss of Simmons is literally a game-changer, you can bet his teammates will be motivated to prove they can win without him. A flameout will probably be the end of Brett Brown as coach and might even lead to a roster overhaul. Boston should still win, just don’t expect it to be easy.
If the Celtics get past the Sixers, and unless there’s an upset, Boston will probably have to beat the Raptors, Bucks and either Lakers or Clippers – the only four teams ahead of them in the regular season standings. If the Cs pull it off, it will be one of the best postseason runs ever seen. So strap in and hope that we’re in for eight weeks of excruciating joy.
Related – ESPN: NBA playoffs 2020: Everything to know about the 17 teams that can still win the title | Boston Sports Journal: Scouting Report: Six things to know about the Sixers’ offense | NBA.com: Series Preview: Healthy Celtics back among title contenders | FiveThirtyEight: 2019-20 NBA Predictions | Sporting News: NBA playoff bracket predictions, picks, odds & series breakdowns for the 2020 bubble | NBC Sports Boston: Celtics-76ers preview: What will Philly miss most from Ben Simmons?
And, finally… Root for Portland
The saga of the Memphis pick, which we’ve heard so much about for the past two seasons, might finally be coming to an end. Here’s a thorough description of what could happen with the Grizzlies’ current playoff chase and how that will affect which draft spot the Celtics obtain, whether this year or next.
The Celtics, as you’ve probably heard, own the Grizzlies’ first-round pick by way of a 2015 trade in which Boston sent Jeff Green to Memphis. The pick, which conveyed to 2020 because it was top-eight protected in 2019 (when Memphis landed the No. 2 overall selection and drafted Ja Morant), now is top-six protected. […]
As part of the NBA’s return-to-play plan, Memphis, the ninth seed in the West, will face Portland, the eighth seed, for the conference’s final playoff spot because fewer than four games separated them in the standings. The Grizzlies, since they’re the lower seed, will need to beat the Blazers twice to secure the final spot, whereas Portland just needs to win once. (The games are scheduled for Saturday and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. ET and 4:30 p.m. ET, respectively.)
In short, the Celtics will be rooting for Portland, because a Blazers victory would force the Grizzlies out of the playoff picture and into the NBA draft lottery. Memphis would have the worst odds of the 14 lottery teams, with just a 2.4 percent chance of its pick jumping into the top four — it’s impossible for the Grizzlies to land the No. 5 or No. 6 pick — and therefore conveying to Boston as an unprotected pick in 2021. But it’s still a long shot the Celtics won’t be afforded if the Blazers drop back-to-back play-in contests.
If Portland wins, the most likely scenario is Boston winds up with the 14th overall pick when the pingpong balls are pulled Aug. 20. If the Grizzlies defeat the Blazers twice this weekend, thus securing the Western Conference’s final playoff spot, the Celtics will net the 16th overall pick.
There’s another reason to root for the Blazers. The 8th seed will play the Lakers in the first round. If it’s young and inexperienced Memphis, LA will breeze through, probably with a sweep but certainly in no more than five games.
Portland, however, with its veterans, a healthy Jusuf Nurkic and, of course, the scorching hot Damian Lillard, would give the Lakers a much tougher battle – probably not enough to win, but at least to make the LeBrons work up a heavy sweat.
The Rest of the Links:
Gordon Hayward Blog: Blogging from the Bubble: Act II