The 76ers and Celtics are both looking up at the Raptors in the NBA’s Atlantic Division entering the Christmas holiday, not to mention a couple of teams playing great basketball in the Central.
Philly has a two-game lead over Boston at the moment but it’s also played six more of its games against the Eastern Conference and four more home games. Boston, meanwhile, still hasn’t quite gotten going and there isn’t any rush to do so quite yet. The C’s have still won nine of their last thirteen games and are comfortable in the middle of the Eastern Conference playoff race with hope for a brighter future.
Boston owns the recent record between these two clubs and is getting the nod as a 4.5-point favorite tomorrow with a total in the 220s.
Philadelphia has won just two of its last eight games against the Celtics and went winless in three games at the Boston Garden in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season. Of course, Jimmy Butler was a Timberwolf then.
Butler is all about attitude and you can be sure he’s going to want to establish a new one in this game, especially after Joel Embiid said that the Celtics “always kick our ass” after the Sixers lost by eighteen in their first game this season.
But Butler won’t win this on his own, nor will any one Celtic. The team that wins this game will play the best team game, something Boston did exceptionally well last season but has struggled with, for whatever reason, this time around.
The Celtics had at least their second “closed doors” meeting before smacking the Hornets on Sunday. Even if the attitude adjustment isn’t permanent, it wouldn’t surprise me if it carried over in such a high-profile game like this one. Boston is still the most talented in the Eastern Conference.
It also helped to get Al Horford back after he sat out seven consecutive games with left knee soreness. There is nothing Embiid can do that fools Horford and with Aron Baynes out, Horford’s presence in the middle is that much more important. Of course, foul trouble would leave Boston unable to matchup with Embiid and even if Horford stays out of trouble, he only played nineteen minutes in the blowout win and it’s unclear how big of a workload he’ll be ready for.
There still isn’t any doubt in my mind that if these two teams meet in the playoff this season, Boston is the favorite. But this game has a different feel about it. Philly has been so bad against the Celtics in this era of an emerging new rivalry and this is the opportune spot for it to perhaps play a little hungrier and get what may feel like an important win when, in reality, it’s just another one of four regular season matchups this season. Boston hasn’t yet hit its stride and this is Butler’s chance to bring a sort of freshness to Boston’s recent dominance.
So while it doesn’t necessarily feel right to play Philly as just a modest underdog in Boston, I believe the time is right to do so. Have a Merry Christmas everybody!
Play: Philadelphia +4.5