Celtics Host Sixers in Possible First Round Preview

Philadelphia 76ers (40-37) at Boston Celtics (53-23)
Tuesday, April 5
7:30 PM ET
Regular Season Game #77 – Home Game #39
Radio:  WEEI, WIP
TD Garden 
Referees:  Ed Malloy,  Matt Boland,  Brian Forte
This is the 4th and final meeting between these two division rivals. The Celtics won 2 of the first 3 games with the Sixers winning the last one.  All three games were close with the Celtics notching a 1 point win and a 4 point win and the Sixers winning by 3.   7 of the last 9 games between these two teams have all been decided by 4 points or less.  

If the playoffs were to begin today, the Celtics and Sixers would be matched up as first round opponents.  The Sixers are in 6th place, 4 games behind Atlanta and just 1.5 games ahead of New York.  The Celtics are in 3rd place, 3 games behind Chicago for the top seed and .5 game behind Miami for the second spot.  The Celtics are 5.5 games ahead of the Magic who are the 4th seed.

The Celtics have had injuries plaguing them all season while the Sixers have been fairly healthy with only 7 players missing a total of 40 games this season due to injury, illness, suspension, etc.  Compare that with 247 games missed by Celtics players this season.  The Sixers have had the same starting 5 for each meeting this season while this will be the 4th different starting lineup for the Celtics vs the Sixers.

The Sixers come into this game slightly banged up with Andre Iguodala playing through a knee injury that has slowed him somewhat, but he is expected to play in this game.  The Sixers 6th man strained his hamstring in Saturday's loss to the Bucks and is expected to miss the rest of the regular season. To replace Williams the Sixers will sign 36 year old Antonio Daniels to a 10 day contract.  Daniels averaged 14.5 points and 8.6 assists with the Texas Legends of the NBDL this season. He is expected to join the team on Tuesday morning.    The Celtics expect to get both Nenad Krstic and Troy Murphy back for this game but will once again be without Shaquille O'Neal.  

The Sixers are just 15-25 on the road but they have also won 10 of their last 17 on the road and would love to finish up their road games with a win. They are 6-4 in their last 10 games.   The Celtics are 30-8 at home and are 5-5 in their last 10 games.  Since this is a possible first round opponent, the Celtics must keep their focus in this game in order to avoid giving the Sixers a boost of confidence going into the playoffs. 

Probable Starters

PG: Rajon Rondo..................................................SG Ray Allen

C:  Jermaine O'Neal

SF:  Paul Pierce ................................. ............PF Kevin Garnett

Celtics Reserves
Glen Davis
Delonte West
Jeff Green
Carlos Arroyo
Von Wafer
Troy Murphy
Nenad Krstic
Avery Bradley
Sasha Pavlovic

Shaquille O'Neal (calf) out
Nenad Krstic (knee) probable
Troy Murphy (ankle)  probable 

Probable Starters

PG: Jrue Holiday ......................................................SF:  Jodie Meeks

C:  Spencer Hawes

SF:  Andre Iguodala .................................................. PF:  Elton Brand

Sixers Bench
Thaddeus Young
Andres Nocioni
Marreese Speights
Tony Battie
Jason Kapono
Craig Brackins
Darius Songaila
Evan Turner
Antonio Daniels

Lou Williams (hamstring)  out
Andre Iguodala (knee)  probable 
Elton Brand (hand) probable

Key Matchups  
Paul Pierce vs Andre Iguodala
Iguodala has been slowed recently with a sore knee.  He is expected to play but it has affected his level of play.  He has shot just 37% from the field over the last 3 games.  Pierce should take advantage of this and be aggressive.  

Kevin Garnett vs Elton Brand
Brand has been playing well and has scored over 20 points in his last two games. Brand is averaging team-highs of 14.9 points, 8.4 rebounds and 1.25 blocks.    KG has also been playing well and this should be a very good matchup to watch.  

Honorable Mention
Ray Allen vs Jodie Meeks
Ray will need to stay on Meeks defensively as Meeks has hit a team high 133 three pointers this season and is one of 5 players (including Ray Allen) who ranks in the top 15 in both three pointers made and 3 point percentage.    With better ball movement in the last game, Ray showed evidence of snapping out of his recent slump.  It would be nice to see Ray have a big game in this one.

Keys to the Game
Defense - The Celtics must concentrate on defense and keep the Sixers out of the paint as well as guarding them tightly on the perimeter.  If the Celtics give the Sixers the outside shots, chances are they will make them.  

Rebound - In their first meeting, the Sixers are a good rebounding team.      The Celtics must put out effort on the boards and that effort will translate into other areas as well.  They have to box out and crash the boards to keep the Sixers from scoring second chance points.  

- The Celtics must come into the game focused and not let up until the final buzzer.  If the season ended right now, this would be the first round matchup in the East.  The Celtics have to be focused on sending a message in this game and not allow the Sixers to enter the playoffs with confidence that they can beat the Celtics.

Team Play
The Celtics got back to playing more as a team against the Pistons.  The passing was much better and the team moved the ball and found the open man.  Not surprisingly, Ray got more shots and hit them.  They Celtics must continue to play as a team on both ends of the court, but especially on the offensive end.

Bench Play
Doc is trying to settle his rotation for the playoffs and at the same time keep the minutes down for the starters.  The Celtics need their bench to produce when they are on the court.  The Sixers bench ranks 3rd in the league with 39.6 points per game.  The Celtics reserves must respond with defense to try to limit the scoring of the Sixers bench along with providing enough offense of their own to give the Celtics starters rest.  

Official Report
Ed Malloy has officiated over 230+ regular season games. Controversy between Malloy and Doc Rivers goes way back. In 2003, when Doc was with Orlando, Malloy called a technical foul on Andrew DeClercq for staring. Doc called it one of the worst calls he ever saw (boy has he seen a lot worse since then!)and he said that he felt that Malloy had been intimidated all night. Fast forward to the Celtics game in Utah this season when Malloy, no longer intimidated, called 2 quick technicals on Doc and ejected him. Here is Doc's version of those calls.
“I just told Ed [Malloy], please keep officiating the game,” said Rivers. “That’s all I said. I thought the play before [the technical] was a clear travel in front of him. So I just said, ‘Hey Ed, it’d be nice if you’d keep officiating throughout.’ He gave me a tech. Then I said, ‘That’s the best call you’ve made all night.’ Usually, it’s nice to earn them, but [Monday's technicals were] another bad call.”
Malloy was also on the crew that officiated game 1 of the Miami series in last year's playoffs where 5 technicals were called and Kevin Garnett was ejected. The Celtics are 5-1 this season and 8-2 in their last 10 games with Malloy as an official. He was terrible in the Golden State game where the Warriors had taken 26 free throws to 6 for the Celtic with about 8 minutes left in the game. The final numbers were 28-11 after several intentional fouls gave the Celtics a few more free throws. The Sixers are 1-3 this season and 3-7 in their last 10 games with Malloy. His home W/L record is 39-28.

Matt Boland
Boland started his official career in the NBA 7 years ago. Boland has gathered officiating experience in the CBA (7 years), the WNBA (5 years), the NBDL (2 years), collegiate level (5 years) and high school level (12 years). Boland, along with Scott Foster, was questioned by the FBI in regard to the Tim Donaghy case after it was found that Donaghy often phoned Boland on game days. Both Boland and Foster were cleared of involvement in that betting scandal. The Celtics are 3-2 this season with Boland. 2 were well officiated and 3 were not. Both teams are 5-5 in their last 10 games with Boland. His home W/L record is 37-28.

Brian Forte
This is Forte's third year in the league. He spent several years as a college ref before coming to the NBA. Forte was the object of Tommy's wrath in the classic rant that follows (the T was later rescinded. The officiating in that game was bad both ways. The free throws were fairly even in all 3 games he called.:

The Celtics are 2-1 this season with Forte on the court and 8-2 over their last 10 games. The Sixers are 1-3 this season and 3-7 over their last 10 games with Forte. His home W/L record this season is 33-19.

Message Game
The Celtics need to send a message to the Sixers, who may be their first round opponent.  It would not be a good idea to allow the Sixers to beat them and gain confidence going into the playoffs.