NBA: Old foes set for bruising reunion

Few expect Philadelphia 76ers to dominate, with the season-ending injury suffered by their guard Ben Simmons.
Few expect Philadelphia 76ers to dominate, with the season-ending injury suffered by their guard Ben Simmons. PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite missing All-Star guard Simmons, Sixers fancy their chances against Celtics

ORLANDO (Florida) • There is little love lost between the Philadelphia 76ers and the Boston Celtics. They have met each other more times (20) in the post-season than any other match-up and it is the longest rivalry in the National Basketball Association, going back to 1949.

The Sixers and Celtics will go at it again, meeting in the play-offs for the second time in the past three years, after Boston's third seeding in the Eastern Conference and Philadelphia's spot as the sixth seed was finalised on Wednesday.

Not since 2002 are both teams clashing this early in the first round next week and while the Sixers had the better of their regular season match-ups, winning three of the four games, few expect the same dominance this time round.

Much of it has to do with the season-ending injury suffered by their guard Ben Simmons. The two-time All-Star underwent surgery on Monday to correct a dislocated knee cap and his game average of 16.4 points, 8.0 assists and 7.8 rebounds will be sorely missed.

Prior to his injury, the Australian guard also led his team for the most number of minutes played at 35.4 per game, and 76ers coach Brett Brown has admitted they will have to somehow shut down the Celtics' perimeter threats without their primary defensive asset.

The glaring hole was obvious as the Sixers fell to their third straight defeat, losing 125-121 to champions Toronto Raptors on Wednesday.

On going 3-4 in the "bubble" and now shorn of Simmons, Brown told MassLive.com: "Ben was having an All-Defensive type of season.

"When you take that weapon out, that length out, that versatility out, there's more responsibility on everyone, especially Joel (Embiid).

"I feel like his rim protection, him being such a presence at the rim, looking to block shots, looking for defensive rebounds... is going to be even more required... we need him to go to a higher level."

But Embiid has also been struggling with injury since the league moved to Disney World. In their past three games, the centre has sat out one game and played a combined 20 minutes in the other two.

However, Sixers forward Al Horford does not want to use that as an excuse as his team open their bid to make it to the Eastern Finals for the first time in 19 years and ultimately, a first title since 1983.

PICKING UP THE SLACK

When you take that weapon out, that length out, that versatility out, there's more responsibility on everyone, especially Joel (Embiid).

BRETT BROWN, Philadelphia 76ers coach, calls on his team to raise their game after losing guard Ben Simmons to a knee injury.

The five-time All-Star will be facing his former team, whom he left last year. He told USA Today: "Coming into the bubble, we knew it was a possibility. For us, it's a great opportunity. It's part of the business.

"Obviously, we've already played them plenty of times this year so that effect is out of the way so now we can go out there and compete and it should be a fun series."

Getting beaten 4-1 by Boston in the 2018 Eastern semi-finals still stings for Brown and he is hoping the memory of that series loss will inspire his players, even though they are not at full strength.

"The Philly-Celtics rivalry is storied," he said. "It's historic and so to be able to have this opportunity again we're excited, (we'll) treat this series with tremendous respect but it's one that we're excited to compete against them."

Boston forward Jayson Tatum said on Tuesday: "We just continue to get better each and every game, and that's what you want this time of the year."

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 14, 2020, with the headline 'Old foes set for bruising reunion'. Print Edition | Subscribe