Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions

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Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers: Preview, Analysis and Predictions
Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

Although the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics 106-100 in their first matchup of the 2012-13 season, coach Doug Collins' team may be the ones thinking revenge as the teams kick off a two-game set with Friday night's matchup at the Wells Fargo Center. Boston ended Philadelphia's 2011-12 season with a grind-it-out, seven-game victory in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Both teams have since underwent major renovations.

The 76ers parted ways with franchise staple Andre Iguodala in a four-team trade that notably sent Iguodala to Denver, Dwight Howard to the L.A. Lakers and Andrew Bynum to Philadelphia. Bynum (knee) has yet to make his Philly debut.

The Celtics cut ties with a slew of players, adding Jason Terry, Courtney Lee, rookie Jared Sullinger and others along the way. Terry may have been their splashiest acquisition, but Celtics fans understood the significance of having a healthy Jeff Green (who missed all of the 2011-12 season following heart surgery) back in coach Doc Rivers' rotation.

Between the Celtics, 76ers, Knicks and Nets, the Atlantic Division has emerged as the league's toughest. With playoff tickets at a premium in this tightly-contested division, this early December meeting could carry serious postseason implications.

 

Time: Friday, December 7th, 7:00 p.m. ET

TV: ESPN

Records: Boston Celtics (10-8), Philadelphia 76ers (10-8)

Betting line: Celtics -1 (according to Vegas Insider Consensus)

 

Injuries (via CBSSports.com)

Celtics

Avery Bradley (shoulder), out

76ers

Andrew Bynum (knee), out

Royal Ivey (groin), doubtful

Nick Young (toe), questionable

 

Key Matchup

Rajon Rondo, PG, Celtics vs. Jrue Holiday, PG, 76ers

In 2011-12, this would have been a clear mismatch favoring the Celtics. But Holiday's play this season has pushed him near the elites at the position.

For fans of great point guard play, this game will feature two of the best the league has to offer. In their first 2012-13 meeting, the duo combined for 35 points and 34 assists. Rondo leads the league in assists (12.8 per game) with Holiday just two spots behind (9.3).

The Celtics point guard teeters on the extreme end of the pass-first variety. His streak of 37 games with double-digit assists (tied for the second-longest such streak in NBA history) ended after his involvement in an on-court altercation with the Nets resulted in his first-half ejection and an ensuing two-game suspension. Rondo returned for the team's win over the Minnesota Timberwolves on Wednesday, perhaps sparking a new run with 11 assists in that game.

Rondo's streak may have resulted from the occasional padded stat line, but he's clearly the best passer in today's NBA. He understands where his teammates like receiving the ball and puts them in the best position to score. He's already posted two 20-plus assist outings in 2012-13, including this effort against the Toronto Raptors:

 

Holiday has looked like a different player with his ascension in coach Collins' offensive game plan. He's set career highs nearly across the board, including field-goal percentage (45.4) despite the increase in usage.

His 4.1 turnovers average per game highlights the fact that he's still learning how to play the position, but he makes up for some of those mistakes by causing turnovers on the defensive end. He utilizes deceptive quickness and smart angles to keep opponents in front of him. Even when his man slips behind him, he doesn't quit on the play. He has the athleticism to erase opponents' shots, something he taught Indiana's Lance Stephenson last season:

 

 

X-Factors

Paul Pierce, SF, Celtics

With no Ray Allen and an inconsistent bench, the Celtics have relied on Pierce as heavily as ever in 2012-13. The unfortunate early truth for Celtics fans, though, is that the 35-year-old may finally be showing the effects of his grueling 14-plus NBA seasons.

He still leads the team in scoring (19.1 points per game), but his shooting has dipped to an eight-year low (41.7 percent from the field). Without the same explosive in his legs, he's far too often settled for outside shots (nearly 61 percent of his field-goal attempts have come outside the paint). 

The Celtics need a vintage Pierce performance to keep pace with the younger, more athletic 76ers. He has the tools to go off on any given night, but Boston can't afford any more of his defensive mishaps:

 

Evan Turner, SF, 76ers

The versatile forward has taken advantage of the available minutes in Collins' rotation vacated by Iguodala. The third-year wing has increased his scoring to 14.4 points per game, a five-point jump from his previous career best.

The second overall pick of the 2010 draft may not have the gaudy statistics of other top selections, but that doesn't mean he's disappointed. He does a little bit of everything well (7.0 rebounds and 3.9 assists per game), similar to the departed Iguodala.

His three-point shot looks better than ever (43.3 percent), which could spell disaster for a Boston team short on perimeter defenders. He showed off an NBA-ready mid-range jumper during his three seasons at Ohio State, then showcased his finishing ability to NBA fans with plays like this:

 

Jason Terry, SG, Celtics

Coach Rivers may have seen the writing on the wall when he tried to spark his lethargic second team by moving Ray Allen in to a reserve role in 2011-12. The Celtics bench struggled to score even with Allen, and those issues have carried over into 2012-13 (30.2 points per game, tied for the 10th fewest).

But Terry's filled the scoring void that Ray Allen left when he joined the Miami Heat. He's been Boston's fourth-best scorer overall (12.0 points per game) and its second-best perimeter shooter (39.7 percent).

Given the fact that Pierce has struggled and Kevin Garnett has been limited to the fewest minutes since his rookie season (28.7 per game), the Celtics may increase their dependence on Terry's scoring.

Terry isn't Ray Allen. But he is a knockdown shooter, playing with a point guard capable of exploiting that shooting prowess:

 

Thaddeus Young, PF, 76ers

After just 140 starts in his first 361 games as a professional, Young has finally cemented his position in the Philadelphia starting lineup. Of course, if Bynum comes back that could change.

Young's on pace for his second-best shooting season (52.8 percent) since his rookie year, thanks largely to his ability to exploit defensive mismatches. He's too quick for bigger power forwards to guard on the perimeter and has the requisite post game to punish smaller defenders.

Not to mention the fact that he's one of the league's most active defenders. On that end of the floor, he's Iguodala-like with his ability to finish the fast breaks that he starts:

 

 

Depth Charts

Celtics

Courtesy of ESPN.com.

 

76ers

 

Courtesy of ESPN.com.

Prediction

76ers 93, Celtics 90

America, meet Jrue Holiday. The 76ers point guard has been often overlooked given the wealth of talent at the position, but this nationally-broadcast game could be the platform he needs to put himself in All-Star discussions.

Rondo is one of the best defensive stoppers at the position, but that didn't stop Holiday from posting 21 points and 14 assists in their first head-to-head matchup of the season. Without a shot-blocking threat behind him, Rondo may give Holiday some clean three-point attempts to curtail his drives.

This could easily come down to a battle of the supporting casts, much like the first game did. If that's the case, I'll take upside over experience in what should be a phenomenal game.

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