2. P.J. Tucker vs. Jayson Tatum
Last series, it was P.J. Tucker vs. Mikal Bridges. Now it’s P.J. Tucker vs. Jayson Tatum. The Sixers are entering “why we signed P.J. Tucker” territory. We saw glimpses of it in the Brooklyn series, but this is where the rubber meets the road. Tucker admitted as much, saying the “playoffs start now” after the Sixers swept the Nets.
The Sixers did — almost definitely — sign Tucker with this matchup in mind. The Sixers’ lack of toughness and reliable perimeter defense has been a major roadblock in past matchups with Boston. Tucker is a proven playoff performer with a long history of successfully bothering the league’s best wing scorers. Jayson Tatum is one of the league’s best wing scorers.
Tatum is capable of carrying the Celtics on his back. As we saw during Boston’s Finals collapse last year, however, he’s still young. He can get rattled by good, physical defense. Tucker will stay glued to Tatum’s side all series and make him fight for every point. If Tucker can get Tatum out of rhythm, that could swing the momentum drastically in Philadelphia’s direction.
The Sixers will need Tucker to sustain his remarkable presence on the glass from round one. The Celtics often roll with multiple bigs. Meanwhile, the historically rebound-averse Sixers absolutely wiped the floor with Brooklyn in the rebounding department. Tucker was a big reason for that. His effort level and maturity will be absolutely key to Philadelphia’s chances of winning this series.