NBA Playoffs: Everything you need to know about Boston Celtics vs. Philadelphia 76ers

(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
(Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images) /

Key Matchup: Joel Embiid vs. Celtics frontcourt

Arguably the best center in the league, Joel Embiid is a monster on the court, and everyone knows that. In the post, he’s virtually unstoppable, commanding double teams and sometimes even triple teams. One on one, no single opponent can stop him.

The problem is, the Celtics got the memo on Embiid a long time ago. In three regular-season matchups against the Boston Celtics, Embiid averaged 21.3 points and 10.3 rebounds in 27.6 minutes per game. Those are all down from his season averages of 23.2 points and 11.7 rebounds per game in 29.7 minutes per game.

He is also posting significantly lower shooting splits (.391/.273/.806) against the Celtics than his regular-season averages (.477/.331/.808). You have to credit Brad Stevens and the Celtics defense for being able to stifle Jo-Jo like that consistently. But partial credit goes to the Sixers themselves for not giving Joel the proper spacing you would like to see for him to go to work in the post and abuse defenders.

The Celtics are a great defensive team using their length, athleticism and communication to switch and rotate with precision and execution. When Embiid gets the ball in the post, guys like Marcus Smart, Jayson Tatum, and Jaylen Brown have the length and quickness to come and help provide double-teams without giving up much space on their matchups.

Again, though the Celtics are a great defensive team regardless of their opponent, the lack of spacing the Sixers displayed during these matchups as well as most of the season also played a significant part in Boston’s defense being so effective.

Amid all the double teams and defensive rotations he saw in his first three meetings against Boston this season, Embiid’s primary defenders were Celtics big men, Daniel Theis and Enes Kanter. Embiid totaled 36 points on 12/32 shooting (37.5 percent) with four turnovers and two shots blocked in 22.27 minutes and 81.7 possessions in which his closest defender was either Kanter or Theis.

Even if, by some miracle, Embiid finds himself with a single defender down-low, he still has to be careful not to pick up an offensive foul. The Celtics are one of the best teams at drawing charges, with 62 on the season.

With Embiid’s newfound willingness and ability to pass out of double teams, coupled with the extra floor space now that Simmons is out of the mix, the Sixers may be able to counter the Celtics defense and find a way for Embiid to punish the Celtics frontcourt.

It is up to Brett Brown and the coaching staff to find the right lineups and rotations to take advantage of Embiid’s strengths. But the players also need to step up and knock down shots when he kicks it out of the double team, to exploit Boston’s defense and force them to adjust how they defend Joel.