Both teams enter the game at 2-2, with the Sixers persevering even in the absence of new center Andrew Bynum and shooting guard Jason Richardson. After losing a home-and-home to the New York Knicks, they came back Wednesday night with a 77-62 victory against the New Orleans Hornets.
The Celtics, however, are on a winning streak after starting the season 0-2. They enter tonight's game fresh off a home-and-home against the Washington Wizards and will look to get above .500 with a victory against the short-handed Sixers.
With both records and standing in the division on the line, tonight's game is going to be a physical battle on both sides of the court from start to finish.
Time: Friday, November 9th, 7:30 p.m., EST
Records: Philadelphia 76ers (2-2) vs. Boston Celtics (2-2)
Betting Line: Philadelphia 76ers (+5), Boston Celtics (-5)
Injuries: Andrew Bynum (knee), Jason Richardson (ankle), Avery Bradley (shoulder)
Key Storyline: Conference Semifinals Rematch Turns Into Divisional Battle
The Atlantic Division is a battleground division this year, as both the New York Knicks and Brooklyn Nets will both make a run for the crown. That said, to say that the Sixers and Celtics got off to an ideal start would be wrong.
Boston started 0-2 with losses to the Miami Heat and Milwaukee Bucks, but bounced back with two victories against the lowly Washington Wizards. All and any wins are good, but to say that Boston's two were impressive is quite the long shot.
Still, regardless of how legitimate their wins are, both teams have a lot to play for tonight. On top of this being a rematch of last year's Eastern Conference Semifinals, in which the Celtics won in seven games, both teams are currently tied for second place in their division and both stand one-and-half games behind the first-place Knicks.
Philadelphia, however, already faces an uphill battle going into the game. With Andrew Bynum still nursing a sore knee, the Sixers are without any major size outside of Spencer Hawes, and that isn't saying much. This leaves the team without a star in the middle, which means Kevin Garnett and Brandon Bass could cause some major damage.
Given how Boston has also been struggling in the paint, this could be a game where the Sixers could finally have some success on the inside. It's sure to be a great battle, as Garnett and Bass will be looking to get over the hump and establish their dominance in that very area.
That said, tonight's game is about redemption for both teams. The Sixers want to gain ground and avenge last year's playoff loss to Boston, and the Celtics want to maintain their status as an elite team.
Just who gets it, however, remains to be seen.
Key Matchup: Jrue Holiday vs. Rajon Rondo
Both the Sixers and Celtics have phenomenal point guards, and the winner of the battle between the two could be the key to which team walks away with the victory.
Jrue Holiday has established himself as a fine scoring point guard and is averaging 18 points, 9.5 assists and 1.5 steals per game thus far while shooting 44 percent from long range. However, his opponent tonight is going to make sure that the former UCLA Bruin has anything but an easy night.
You see, Rondo is also having a career year offense-wise, to the tune of 16 points, 12.5 assists and two steals per contest while shooting an astounding 57 percent from long range.
That said, while both point guards are great at what they do and are of tremendous value to their teams, it's going to be interesting to watch Holiday try and play his offense-oriented game against a pest like Rondo. Holiday has a distinct size advantage at 6'4", 205 pounds compared to the Celtics' floor general, who is 6'1", 186 pounds, but we have all seen how great a defender Rondo is regardless of how much smaller he may be than the man he covers.
Similarly, Rondo is going to be at a disadvantage whenever he has the ball. He is best when driving to the basket and while his jumper has looked better this year, he shouldn't become overly reliant on it. The key to him beating Holiday is to drive hard and draw fouls, doing anything to get his team some free points despite his 61 percent career mark from the free throw line.
Still, with both players coming into their own as elite point men, this is a battle that could very well decide the game.
X-Factor: Paul Pierce
Against a young team like Philadelphia, the Celtics are going to look to their core of veteran talent to carry them to a victory. In this case, the buck stops at veteran forward Paul Pierce, who has spent his entire career in Boston since being drafted 10th overall in 1998.
On the season, the 35-year-old former Jayhawk is averaging 19 points, seven rebounds and 1.5 steals while shooting 42 percent from long range. However, in terms of overall field goal percentage, Pierce has made just 35 percent of his shots.
That all being said, Pierce really needs to make sure he is at the top of his game tonight. He should have an easy matchup being guarded by third-year man Evan Turner, who isn't much of a defender and has yet to impress since being taken with the No. 2 pick in 2010.
Given this circumstance, Pierce should be able to show some of his old flair from start to finish. He can drive to the basket and draw fouls, and maybe find a way to fake out Turner before putting up an open jumper.
Needless to say, whether this is a blowout or a close game on either end, the Celtics' chances to win start and stop with Pierce.
Youth may be the key to a bright future in basketball, but experience usually tends to win out. That said, I'm picking the Celtics to win a close one tonight at TD Garden.
Sure, the team's core is getting old and has a hard time keeping up with some younger teams, but think of the slow-paced defensive game that the Sixers play. It's a team-oriented system where no one man outshines the other, but the team has no star so long as Bynum is injured. This means that in terms of a go-to guy, it's whoever on the Sixers has the hot hand at the moment.
That said, while it's going to be a defensive battle on both ends of the floor, the Celtics' experience with some help from their rowdy fans is going to give them the extra advantage. The game will be close, but Philadelphia just won't have what it takes to get past a team that contends regularly.
Boston Celtics 98, Philadelphia 76ers 93
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