Celtics-76ers first look – What could decide the battle of Eastern Conference heavyweights

The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers will meet in the playoffs for the 22nd time in NBA postseason history. The two teams will face one another in a true clash of the titans in the Eastern Conference semifinals beginning Monday night inside Boston’s TD Garden. Boston won the season series 3-1, with Philly’s lone win featuring a 52-point, 13-rebound performance from Joel Embiid. Embiid left Game 3 of Philadelphia’s sweep of the Nets after suffering a sprained LCL in his right knee. Despite being “probably 50 percent, at best” to play in Game 1 against Boston, Embiid now has a couple of extra days to recover. Harden’s poor shooting against the Nets could become a significant concern. During the regular season, the Celtics switched 73 times when Harden was the ball handler for an on-ball screen, their most instances against a single player, per Second Spectrum tracking. The Celtics have one of the league’s deepest teams, and there is no bigger question than whether Boston will lean into playing bigger or smaller against Philadelphia and its mountain in the middle in Embiid. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum and Al Horford are locked in as starters against Philadelphia, but will Mazzulla go with another big in Robert Williams III — as Boston did at its best last year — or a small in Derrick White — which is how the Celtics played against Atlanta. In his third season, Tyrese Maxey has proven to be one of the most explosive young scoring guards in the NBA. The Celtics, however, have been his Kryptonite.

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