The Celtics host the resurgent Sixers tonight and there’s really only two things worth talking about:
1. Joel Embiid is NOT playing. Frankly this sucks on all levels. Yes it’s a plus for the Celtics in this one game but if there’s any chance that a Celtics/Sixers Playoff Matchup may happen then it’s one less chance the Celtics get to size up the Big Man and test out schemes and defensive options. It’s a scouting opportunity missed. For fans it’s just a bummer. Embiid is entertaining as hell both as a personality and a basketball player. You never know what you’re going to see when he’s actually playing. He’s shown a flare for the dramatic against big name opponents and I’m sure he would have been a spectacle in Boston. Major downer that he’s not going to be playing tonight.
2. Ben Simmons. The consensus Rookie of the Year (yes he’s still eligible) has been an absolute FORCE in the early season. A combination of size, strength and agility he’s been bossing opposing teams despite the fact that HE HAS NO JUMP SHOT. Simmons literally does not shot the ball beyond ten feet from the rim. Peep his highlights from last night’s victory over the Washington Wiz:
Did you see one made jump shot? No. Not one.
Last night was interesting for another reason – the Wiz were down big and attempted to get back in the game by employing a “Hack-a-Ben” strategy. It worked. Simmons took 24 free throws in the fourth quarter (yes you read that right – 24!!!!) making only half. The Wiz climbed back into the game only to fall short in the end. Simmons is shooting his free throws at a 55% clip for the year so expect this strategy to be employed more and more. The Celtics attempted “Hack-a-Andre” with the Pistons that backfired as Drummond continued his greatly improved free throw form this season. Will Coach Stevens try again with Simmons? We shall see.
Back to Simmons and his non-jump shot. If you watched the above highlights from last night you may have also noticed that he goes to extremes to finish with his right hand. There’s been a lot of Internet sleuthing about Simmons perhaps shooting his jumper with the wrong hand – that he’s secretly a lefty and does not know it or something. I don’t buy it. If he was left hand dominant then he wouldn’t be spinning back to his right even when he doesn’t really need to.
Of course the Celtics have already faced the Sixers but it was only the second game of the season for the Sixers and they are a vastly improved group in the month since so you almost have to look at that first matchup as a preseason game.
At 6’10” Simmons has a full 6 inches on his opposite number at Point Guard , Kyrie. Will the Celtics throw the longer Tatum or Brown at him or perhaps go the strength option with Marcus Smart? This is the heart of Simmons success – he’s too athletic to just stick your big on him but he’s bigger than all your guards.
The Cavs recently had success by matching Jae Crowder on Simmons. Crowder played super aggressive, picking up Simmons early and really getting on top of him. It worked. Simmons went 5-11 for 10 points with only 2 assists. And that was without making him attempt any free throws.
Will the Celtics have the same type of success? As Simmons goes so do the Sixers, especially without Embiid.
After losing to the upstart Pistons (and having an extra day of prep) I’m sure the Celtics will be prepared and roaring to go tonight. All eyes will be on the rookies (the active ones at least, Fultz is still banished to Siberia searching for his own jump shot) and we shall see just how the Celtics fair against the newest NBA darlings.