It’s a classic rivalry game. It’s two of the hottest teams in the NBA with two of the four best records in the league. It’s a potential preview of the Eastern Conference Championship series. It’s the Philadelphia 76ers (39-19, 24-8 home, 3rd in the East) hosting the Boston Celtics (43-17, 19-10 away, 1st in the East) in a primetime Saturday night showdown on national TV.
Both teams pulled off dramatic wins in their first games after the All-Star break. The Sixers overcame a sluggish first half against Memphis in which they were down by 17 late in the 2nd quarter. They staged a furious late rally and didn’t pull ahead until Tobias Harris hit a go-ahead corner three with 39 seconds remaining.
The Celtics needed overtime to walk away with a 4-point road victory over Indiana. Coming off his record-setting 55-point MVP performance in the All-Star game, Jayson Tatum had only six points at halftime but finished with 31, including the final four points of the game.
The Sixers and Celtics have met twice this season, with Boston winning both matchups at home. These teams have one more matchup in Philadelphia later this season on April 4, which could have significant playoff-seeding implications.
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers Betting Odds
The Celtics opened as 1.5-point road favorites with -125 odds on the moneyline. Boston was -2.5 against the Sixers at home just a few weeks ago, so considering this game is in Philadelphia, a line movement of just one point seems to favor the Sixers. The public money is leaning towards Boston, with 58% of the money on 66% of the bets against the spread at DraftKings. The Celtics are getting very similar splits on the moneyline.
The total for this game opened at 227 and has dipped to 225. The public is betting on a higher scoring affair, wagering 77% of the money on 85% of the bets on the over.
The implied outcome of these odds is the Celtics winning 113.25-111.75.
Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers Prediction
My pick: Celtics -1.5, Under 225
It will be interesting to see how the Sixers respond after the dramatic victory over the Grizzlies, arguably their best win of the season. It could galvanize them and boost their confidence heading into this critical matchup with Boston, but it could also lead to an emotional letdown. Chances are it does a little bit of both.
The biggest factor in this game is the health of Joel Embiid. While the big man won’t be on the injury report, he is dealing with lingering soreness in his left foot and apparently is also dealing with a non-COVID illness that popped up Thursday morning. As of Saturday morning there had been no updates on his status, but if the illness is still affecting him, that could have the bigger impact on his performance than the sore foot. He looked noticeably sluggish against the Grizzlies, especially in the first half, and the fatigue from the illness seemed to impact his shooting as he went just 7-of-25 from the field (0-5 from three).
Of course, great players like Embiid find ways to impact the game even when they are having a bad shooting night. He still managed to finish with 27 points thanks to a 13-of-17 night on the free throw line, and he was also a force defensively, racking up a whopping 19 rebounds (17 defensive) and six blocks. This critical block on Ja Morant in the final minutes evoked lofty comparisons to the great Bill Russell.
The Sixers will need a healthy Embiid at the top of his game to defend their home court against Boston. The Celtics not only hold the league’s best record, but they also have the best record on the road at 19-10. However, they are in the middle of the pack against the spread on the road at 14-14-1.
This game could easily go either way, but the Celtics are the stronger team. Because of that and the potential health issues impacting Embiid, I have to side with the Celtics in a narrow victory.
In a game with two of the slower-paced teams in the league, I am also taking the under. Both teams like to slow it down and play a half-court offense with long possessions. Boston and Philadelphia are 23rd and 25th, respectively, in the average length of offensive possessions. That’s a recipe for a low-scoring game. These teams did combine for 243 points in the first game of the season, but more recently they combined for just 205 points on February 8.
- The 76ers are 5-0 ATS in their last five games overall and 21-6 ATS in their last 27 home games.
- The Celtics are 6-1 ATS in their last seven games overall and 13-3 ATS in their last 16 games against teams with a winning percentage over .600.
- The Over is 5-0 in the Celtics’ last five games overall and 10-3-1 in the Sixers’ last 14 home games.
- The Celtics are 1-4 ATS in these teams’ last five meetings in Philadelphia, and 3-7 ATS in the last 10 meetings overall.
- The Over is 4-0 in the last four meetings between these teams in Philadelphia.
This game could come down to the final minutes. The defensive matchups on each team’s primary playmaker in those moments will be critical in determining the outcome.
Jayson Tatum vs. Tobias Harris
Harris is not the Sixers’ best perimeter defender. That distinction belongs to De’Anthony Melton. But in the closing minutes against Memphis, with Melton on the bench in favor of Tyrese Maxey, it was Harris who drew the assignment of matching up with Ja Morant.
If this game gets close and late, Harris will be the primary defender on Tatum in those critical situations. Harris is a good defender, but slowing down Tatum is a difficult task even for the best defenders in the league. The Sixers also need Harris to contribute offensively, and checking a relentless scorer like Tatum for most of the game could have an impact on the other side of the court.
James Harden vs. Marcus Smart
Joel Embiid may be the best and most important player for the Sixers, but Harden is a close second. His scoring and playmaking ability late in games takes pressure off Embiid and makes the Sixers’ offense that much more dangerous. He drilled a seemingly impossible corner three with 1:27 to go against Memphis, and the Sixers almost certainly would not have won without that clutch bucket.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) February 24, 2023
The reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Smart will be matching up with Harden for most of the night. He is a tough, pesky defender that will make it a difficult night for The Beard. If he can force Harden off his spots and keep him out of the lane in critical moments, that will be a huge factor for the Celtics’ defense.
Boston Celtics Starting Lineup
Philadelphia 76ers Starting Lineups
Boston Celtics Injuries: none
Philadelphia 76ers Injuries: C Dewayne Dedmon (Out – hip)