The Boston Celtics are coming off of a Game 7 win against the Milwaukee Bucks, while the Philadelphia 76ers just dismantled the Miami Heat in five games. The Celtics and their young core will be thrown into the fire against a Philadelphia team that has been playing its best basketball in more than a decade.
Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid are an incredible young duo that will keep Philly in contention for the next 10-12 years. Markelle Fultz is going to be just fine, and Dario Saric has improved tremendously in his second NBA season.
Boston is definitely in murkier waters. After injuring his hamstring, fans do not have a definitive timetable for the return of Jaylen Brown. The second-year guard has made vast improvements this season, evidenced by his multiple 30-point performances against the Bucks. Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier have been playing superb two-way basketball, and now it appears the Celtics are going to need them step up more.
The one Celtic that will need to carry the heaviest load is veteran Al Horford.
His matchup with Ben Simmons is the most important of the series. Horford put together 18.1 points, 8.7 rebounds and 3.3 assists in seven Round 1 games, while spending time guarding one of the hardest players to defend in the league. The 21-year-old Simmons put up 18.2/10.6/9.0 in his five outings against the Heat. Slowing down Simmons will be a tall task, but Horford should be up to it.
Despite having virtually no jump shot, Simmons has still found ways to command attention. You cannot back off him too far because he will toast you with a running start. He is so good with both hands once he is in the paint, and his passing opens up a lot of shots for other players. Horford will have to stay in front of the youngster and block his paths to the basket if the Celtics are to have any shot in this series.
Offense is the area where Horford should look to attack. Although Simmons is a good defender, Horford proved against Giannis that he is big and strong enough to back down someone of that size and finish with a soft touch. One of the more underrated aspects of Horford’s game is his pump fake. With a slow release, he is able to stop his shot at any time and drive to the basket. Getting Simmons in the air will allow Horford to drive and either finish or kick it out.
The Boston Celtics will win this series if Horford outplays Simmons. Think like us? Think different? Place your bet on it