Sixers-Celtics Opening Night Preview


The Boston Celtics and Philadelphia 76ers kick off the 2018-19 season from the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts. Here’s what you can expect from tonight’s matchups.

Point Guard

Ben Simmons vs Kyrie Irving: Irving is a proven winner, an NBA champion who made a living with his clutch shooting and ability to close out games while playing in Cleveland. There’s no denying Irving is the better offensive player, averaging 11.7 points more than Simmons in three head-to-head matchups, all Celtics victories. However, Simmons is the more polished defender and his size and length, at 6-foot-10 versus Irving’s 6-foot-4, make him arguably the toughest cover in the NBA. It will be interesting to see how Irving’s mobility is holding up after undergoing three different knee surgeries in a span of 36 months.

Advantage: Sixers

Shooting Guard

Markelle Fultz vs Jaylen Brown: Fultz is an unknown commodity in the NBA after a bizarre shoulder ailment sidelined him for all but 14 games last season. The Sixers believe he can be a plus defender and elite shooter – and he put in the work this summer in all aspects — but he has to prove it with his play on the court. Meanwhile, Brown was thrown into the mix last year and logged tough minutes during the Celtics’ deep playoff run, upping his scoring from 14.5 points to 18.0. He also was a persistent pest with his attacking defense in transition.

Advantage: Celtics

Small Forward

Robert Covington vs. Jayson Tatum: The hype train for Tatum is riding at warp speed, shifting gears from lofty comparisons to Carmelo Anthony and Kevin Durant. He looked like the real deal in the playoff series against the Sixers, elevating his regular-season scoring from 13.9 points to 18.5, while causing an avalanche of memes mocking the Sixers for trading up and taking Fultz over him. Tatum is clearly the better offensive weapon, but it’s the intangibles that Covington brings that make this an attractive match-up problem. Covington is an elite on-the-ball defender, as evidenced by his first-team All-Defense selection, and he’s a more skilled passer and better rebounder.

Advantage: Sixers

Power Forward

Dario Saric vs. Gordon Hayward: There are sure to be some opening night jitters for Hayward who broke his leg in the first five minutes of his Celtics debut last season. Hayward fits the old-school Celtics mold, in the image of Larry Bird – and he’s making his first appearance in front of the Boston faithful. They will be cheering every time he touches the ball, which will be limited after coach Brad Stevens put him on a 25-minute per game restriction. Still, he’s a dangerous stretch 4 who possesses a killer mid-range shot and deadly three-ball. Saric can be a streaky shooter, sometimes disappearing for long stretches, but his athleticism makes him a triple threat. But Saric is dealing with back problems that could alter his game.

Advantage: Celtics


Joel Embiid vs. Al Horford: Horford looked like he had jumped in the DeLorean with the way he manned up on Embiid in last year’s playoffs, clogging the lane and making the young Sixers center work for everything. Embiid looked out of shape and gassed by the end of it. Horford has enjoyed a great amount of team success in this match-up with a 7-2 record, but the individual stats lean heavy for Embiid – 21.1 points against 15.6 and 13.1 rebounds against 8.3. The Sixers are committed to making Embiid the focal point of their offense, promising to feed him inside and back him off the three-point line. The constant punishment under the basket may prove too much for the 32-year-old Horford to endure.

Advantage: Sixers

Celtics Bench: The Celtics own one of the deepest and most talented benches in the entire NBA. Terry Rozier is a straight assassin who can heat up in a hurry and Marcus Smart is severely underrated, with Marcus Morris, Robert Williams and Aron Baynes supplying their trademark physicality. Another player to keep an eye on is Brad Wanamaker after he dominated during summer-league play in Europe.


Sixers Bench: JJ Redick is the pulse of the second unit as he’s basically their sixth starter, and can heat up just as quickly as Rozier can. But they are down two huge role players going into the opener as they’ll be without backup center and power forward Mike Muscala (ankle) and combo forward Wilson Chandler (hamstring). Two impactful losses, that may lead to more burn for hustle guy Amir Johnson and Turkish wunderkind Furkan Korkmaz.

Advantage: Celtics

Prediction: On paper, the Celtics look unstoppable. They have at least two guys that would start on any other team in the NBA coming off their bench, with two legit superstars – Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward — coming back from major injuries. And it’s on their homecourt, in the loudly obnoxious TD Garden. Boston should win this game, right? Nope. The Sixers have had this game on their minds ever since they lost in the playoffs and that taste isn’t any less bitter six months later. This is their Super Bowl and Embiid is out to show the world why he deserves MVP. PHI 112, BOS 108

Statement Games Picks

Joel Embiid: OVER 28.5 PTS – if you’re predicting the Sixers to win this game (and I am), then there is no they do it without Embiid getting at least 30 points. He knows how big this game is and he’s ready to enforce his will. Embiid’s line: 35 points, 16 boards, 2 blocks

TOTAL PTS OVER 209.5 – it’s weird that two defensive-minded teams would break this threshold, but I have them shattering it with a combined 220. Why? In the playoffs last year the averaged right around 209 for five games.

Any Celtic Will Have A Double Double – Always bet the field and this seems too easy. Horford can get 10 and 10 in his sleep, even with Embiid hounding him. Morris always gets hype for playing his hometown team, too.

About Mike Greger

Michael Greger grew up the son of an Eagles season-ticket holder before serving as Sports Editor at Metro Philadelphia where he covered the Eagles, Sixers, Phillies and Flyers. He co-edits the popular Philadelphia sports blog, PhillySportsJabronis.com, and regularly freelances for several local publications, including Billy Penn, Philadelphia Weekly and NBC Sports Philadelphia. He is well respected in local and online sports circles due to his extensive work navigating the pulse of the Philly sports fan. His favorite Sixer of all-time is Scott Brooks – as a player, not a coach – and he isn’t ashamed to admit that he cried during Allen Iverson’s retirement ceremony. Trust the Process.

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