— Justin DiVirgilio
The inevitable is finally within reaching distance. It has been the conversation ever since the playoffs began. When will Philly have to meet Boston in the playoffs? We got our answer as the Philadelphia 76ers will take on the Boston Celtics in the second round of the 2023 NBA Playoffs. It is the third playoff series matchup between Philly and Boston in the Joel Embiid era. Just like usual, Embiid is entering the series injured, with a sprained right LCL, and will not be the same guy that the Celtics have seen in their games this season.
The injury changes a lot for the Sixers offensively. That means that Philly needs James Harden, Tyrese Maxey, Tobias Harris, and other role payers need to step up their shot-making even more in this series. The guys are fully capable of doing so. Maxey and Harris averaged at least 20 points on 50/40/90 shooting splits last round against Brooklyn. Harden will have to score the ball by actually finishing his layups in the paint and continuing to knock down 42 percent of his threes. Maxey will need to get past his own scoring struggles, 10.0 PPG vs Boston this season, against Boston this series.
Defensively, Joel Embiid can still fare as an elite defensive player. Embiid likes to challenge shots by simply showing his presence and deterring drivers to get the ball away from where Embiid is. On defense, Embiid will need help from his teammates on the perimeter to take on those responsibilities. The reinforcements on the perimeter will be De’Anthony Melton, P.J. Tucker, Jalen McDaniels, and Paul Reed.
On the other side, there are multiple ball-handling options that are ready to tire out the Sixers on defense. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, Malcolm Brogdon, Derrick White, and Marcus Smart all can make their mark on the game by driving into the teeth of the defense with the option to kick for an open three or to attempt some type of mid-range shot. Each one of those five players is averaging at least 13 PPG this postseason. The scoring for Boston is potent as they are averaging 121.2 points so far this postseason. The drive and kick game is essential to their offense. Boston is averaging 40.6 percent shooting from three on 39 attempts per game.
The series will be a close one. The Celtics have shown a little lack of urgency in their last series with Atlanta and devolving into a predictable, clunky isolation offense. The Sixers can look like the even worse version of that offense. I am envisioning a playoff series that will be memorable and important for the future of the Sixers. Boston has the more complete team and the more stable team, yet for some reason I have this feeling to predict a Sixers’ series victory. The Sixers will take down their nemesis in seven games, achieving their first Eastern Conference Finals berth since 2000-2001.
Final prediction: Sixers in 7