Sixers vs. Celtics: Storylines to watch as Sixers start back-to-back against Boston

·3 min read

Storylines to watch as Sixers start back-to-back against Boston originally appeared on NBC Sports Philadelphia

The 23-17 Sixers begin a back-to-back Friday night in Philadelphia with a meeting against the 21-21 Celtics. A road matchup with the Heat is up next. 

Another Joel Embiid performance of 30 or more points would be his ninth straight and move him past Wilt Chamberlain and Allen Iverson into sole possession of the franchise record. Embiid has exactly 31 points in all five Sixers games so far in January. 

Here are the essentials for Sixers-Celtics: 

  • When: 7 p.m. ET with Sixers Pregame Live at 6:30 p.m. 

  • Where: Wells Fargo Center 

  • Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia 

  • Live stream: NBCSportsPhiladelphia.com and the MyTeams app 

And here are storylines to watch: 

Looking for better than ‘awful’ 

Monday’s loss to the Hornets wasn’t a night of silver linings for Sixers head coach Doc Rivers.

He thought Charlotte had a “mental edge” and was displeased with many parts of the Sixers’ showing. It led him to play Andre Drummond next to Embiid in the fourth quarter.

“We were awful, and let’s try something," Rivers said. “It’s part of what you do as a coach. You try to shake it up, see if we can get something. It actually looked OK for us. Defensively, we got some stops and rebounds. But it’s one of those nights where nothing was (working) and we tried to throw stuff in. I do like that lineup. I don’t necessarily like it against that team, but it wasn’t bad for us.”

A Drummond-Embiid pairing would perhaps be understandable at some point Friday against Boston, a team that starts two big men in Al Horford and Robert Williams. The more important issue, though, is the Sixers need to have improved focus, scrap the sloppy turnovers and play higher-level basketball overall with their usual lineups. 

Embiid and Horford meet again 

Embiid’s worst shooting game of the season was his 3-for-17 outing in the Sixers’ one-point loss to Boston on Dec. 1. 

Since then, he’s averaged 30.7 points on 52.6/36.5/84.3 shooting splits. He’s made an NBA-best 9.5 free throws per game (and attempted a league-high 11.2) during that stretch. 

With Horford among the seven Celtics out because of health and safety protocols on Dec. 20, Embiid posted 41 points and 10 rebounds in a Sixers win. Horford is clearly a better defender on Embiid than Enes Kanter Freedom, but will the 35-year-old be able to hold Embiid to another subpar night, or at least keep him under that 30-point threshold for the first time since Dec. 23? 

More on Thybulle’s plate? 

Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 67 points on 38 field-goal attempts Wednesday in the Celtics’ win over the Pacers.

With Danny Green out because of right hip pain, one imagines a lot of defensive responsibility will fall on Matisse Thybulle. On Monday, Thybulle only played 16 scoreless minutes. Rivers left him on the bench for the game’s final 20 minutes and 46 seconds.

In addition to Green, Shake Milton (back contusion), Ben Simmons (personal reasons), Jaden Springer and Braxton Key (on G League assignment) were listed as out for the Sixers. Celtics guard Marcus Smart is out because of health and safety protocols.