Sixers’ biggest hurdle in the East: The Boston Celtics

James Harden, Sixers vs. Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
James Harden, Sixers vs. Celtics. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports /

The Philadelphia 76ers entered the 2022-23 NBA season with buzz. The offseason re-signing of James Harden and the additions of a handful of new role players have put them in a new light among national expectations. This is in an authentic way and not like previous Sixers rosters before — looking at you 2019-20 Sixers.

With that being said, the Sixers being contenders means they have competition. Who is the best competition in a matchup with the Sixers? The answer is none other than the bitter, hated rival Boston Celtics.

The Sixers and Celtics are primed to wage battle all season long

The Celtics have a few reasons for why they match up as the Sixers biggest challenge in the East with those being team continuity, ability to play in versatile ways, and two two-way wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

The Sixers and Celtics are complete opposites in terms of continuity. The Celtics core three players Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Marcus Smart have played together for the past five seasons. The same big three that has led the Boston Celtics to the Eastern Conference Finals three times in the past five seasons. The Celtics also have our old pal, the oh-so enthusiastically clapping Al Horford. Horford is apart of two of those Eastern Conference Finals teams.

Add in the fact that this Boston Celtics team just went to the NBA Finals and lost in six games. The team brought everyone back. The bump that certainly skewed the team’s continuity on the surface was the pending sticky Ime Udoka situation. The absence was a concern until the team started the season 3-0 under interim head coach Joe Mazzulla. Mazzulla adds to the continuity as he has been an assistant on the Celtics coaching staff since 2019.

The second reason that presents such a challenge for the Sixers is the Celtics are a versatile team. The entire roster contains players with the right amount of size, quickness, length, athleticism, and skill. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart, Grant Williams, Derrick White, Malcolm Brogdon, Al Horford, Robert Williams and Noah Vonleh. No one listed is under 6-foot-3.

On defense, the Celtics length and height affect the Sixers best players in a variety of ways. With Embiid, the nimble guys can rush Embiid by sending well-timed double teams. With Harden, the Celtics defensively disciplined guys can play the right amount of physical defense to frustrate him on his drives to the rim. With Maxey, the Celtics will continue to challenge him to see if the shot is real and not allow Maxey to get downhill.

On offense, the team has big ball-handlers. These ball-handlers can attack the weakest point of the defense, the backcourt. James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, and De’Anthony Melton are the mainstays of the guard rotation. Only one is over 6-foot-2 and that is Harden, who is notoriously lazy on defense. Maxey is just a tad too small despite his best efforts. Melton is the solid defender of the group with his length and quickness.

The final reason is the Celtics’ legit, dependable star talent on the wings in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Tatum is coming off his best year yet in the 2021-22 season where he averaged 26.9 points on 45/35/85 shooting splits, 8 rebounds, and 4.4 assists. Jaylen Brown doiing something similar as he averaged 23.6 points on 47/35/76 shooting splits, 6.1 rebounds and 3.5 assists. These two players are primed size NBA wings that are great two-way players that the Sixers have problems with. The Sixers need to be weary of Brown’s and Tatum’s scoring not just because of the obvious but the aggressiveness by the tandem opens up shots for their teammates. Smart, Brogdon, Grant Williams, White, and Horford are willing shooters and/or ball movers.

The Philadelphia 76ers certainly have their issues to deal with. Looking ahead towards the playoffs, the Celtics will certainly be on the team’s radar. The matchups further in the season will continue to show how the Sixers match up with the Celtics and vice versa. On paper as of today, the Celtics provide the toughest matchup for the Sixers in the Eastern Conference.

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