Tonight's match takes place at TD Garden in front of a rowdy Boston Crowd, which makes a win hard to come by for any visiting team. The struggling Celtics will be looking to gain ground in the Atlantic Division, but will have a tough time against a young and scrappy Philadelphia squad.
While Boston has struggled mightily over the first month of the season, Philadelphia has played better than anyone could have anticipated. Even without Andrew Bynum, the Sixers are tied with the Celtics at 10-8 and boast a great defense that ranks seventh in points allowed.
Though Philly has the distinct advantage in terms of youth, the Celtics' age and experience must not be immediately written off. This is a team that came within one win of the NBA Finals last season. They still has the balanced attack and poise to make another run in 2013.
This means keeping pace with the Sixers not just in the Eastern Conference race, but in that of the Atlantic Division. That alone makes tonight's game all the more important for Boston, so Doc Rivers' men had better bring their A game.
Time: Saturday, Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m. EST
TV: Comcast Sportsnet HD
Records: Boston Celtics (10-9) vs. Philadelphia 76ers (11-8)
Betting Lines: Philadelphia (+6), Boston (-6)
Injuries: Avery Bradley (shoulder, out), Leandro Barbosa (illness, probable), Andrew Bynum (knee, out), Nick Young (toe, doubtful), Kwame Brown (illness, probable), Royal Ivey (groin, doubtful)
Key Storyline: Can Aging Celtics Keep Up with Youthful Sixers?
Experience does indeed count for something, but it doesn't stop the Celtics from being an older and slower team. Two of their key players, Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett, are 35 and 36 years old respectively, and both are starting to slow down.
Against the Sixers, this could pose a problem both for them and the Celtics as a whole. Only four players on Philadelphia's roster are over 30, and the only regular among them is 31-year-old shooting guard Jason Richardson. Everyone else is on the younger side, and that will only help the team over the course of the season.
That isn't to say the Celtics don't have a chance to beat the Sixers. They defeated them in the Eastern Conference Semifinals last season, albeit in seven games, and their collective experience is enough to give Philadelphia a lesson on how the game is played.
That won't be an easy task, however. The Sixers have a new attitude this year, wanting to get back to the playoffs despite being a young team without its key player in center Andrew Bynum. A win in Boston would be a giant step forward, and further cement them as a team to watch down the stretch.
Key Matchup: Jrue Holiday vs. Rajon Rondo
Both the Sixers and Celtics owe a lot to their point guards this season. Jrue Holiday and Rajon Rondo have consistently kept their respective teams in the hunt over the first month of the season, both having All-Star caliber seasons.
Rondo has picked up right where he left off last season. He is leading the league in assists with 12.8 per game, and also playing pesky defense with just under two steals per contest.
His offense has been average like usual, just 13.2 points per game. However, his mid-range jumper has mightily improved and he is shooting 51 percent from the field.
Jrue Holiday's season has also been absolutely phenomenal. The former UCLA Bruin is establishing himself as a reliable scoring point guard. Not only is he averaging 18.2 points per game, but 9.3 assists and 1.4 steals as well. Holiday has also been a reliable three-point shooter, making 36 percent of his shots from downtown.
These two will go toe-to-toe tonight, and it's going to be close despite Rondo's limited offensive game. The former Kentucky Wildcat needs to play his best defense against the up-and-coming Holiday, which could be tough given how their first battle of the season ended.
The 6'1" Rondo was able to score 14 points and dish out an amazing 20 assists when Boston played Philadelphia on Nov. 9, but it was not enough to stop the 6'4" Holiday, who had 21 points and 14 assists en route to a 106-100 victory.
To Rondo's credit, Holiday did commit seven turnovers in that game, so his defense did indeed count for something. However, Holiday is bound to have a new gameplan coming into this home-and-home series, and that could result in him besting his rival point man.
Should he win that battle early, Philly's chances of winning shall immediately increase.
X-Factor: Evan Turner
After being selected with the No. 2 pick in the 2010 draft, Turner is finally living up to his potential. He is back at his natural position at small forward, and has settled in nicely to coach Doug Collins' system.
On the season, the former Ohio State Buckeye is averaging 14.4 points and seven rebounds per game while shooting a respectable 44 percent from the field.
Since Holiday will be tied up with Rondo and Jason Richardson is not the same offensive threat he once was, Turner will likely be the one to shoulder the load on offense. He will be guarded by a fine pest in 35-year-old Paul Pierce, but he has the age advantage at just 24.
Turner simply needs to be patient in this game. He scored 25 points and had 11 rebounds in Boston and Philadelphia's first meeting of the season, and has shown a general improvement in every part of his game. Over his last five games, Turner is averaging 18.8 points and 6.4 rebounds per contest.
This young man is simply a phenomenal athlete and it's going to show tonight against the aging Celtics. For Philly to seal the deal, he needs to have a good game on both sides of the court.
He has the drive and determination to do just that, so it's really just a matter of whether or not his shots are falling tonight.
Boston's rowdy crowd will be at full volume from start to finish, but it won't be enough to stop young and driven Philadelphia. Doug Collins will have his young squad fully focused, with the veteran Richardson stepping up as necessary. Philadelphia's tough defense will just be too much for the aging Celtics.
That isn't to say that Boston will be out of this game from the get-go. They will put up a great effort in trying to protect their home court, and may even have the lead for a good portion of the game.
Who will win?
That is, they will before Holiday and Turner start taking over. Holiday will win his battle with Rondo yet again, and this time won't commit as many turnovers. He will sink key threes, and also use his size to make life hell for Rondo, who won't be able to drive the lane and dish the ball off to his teammates.
Turner will absolutely take over for Philadelphia in the second half. He will be a beast on the boards once again and sink a fair number of clutch shots in the third and fourth quarters. Pierce will counter with some clutch baskets of his own, but he won't be able to slow down Turner's offensive attack.
Thaddeus Young will also provide some help in the paint, engaging in some fine battles with both Brandon Bass and Kevin Garnett. His and the rest of the Sixers' defense will prove to be a key difference-maker against the Celtics, and will ultimately be the reason that Philadelphia gains ground in the standings by the final buzzer.
Philadelphia 76ers 96, Boston Celtics 89