With the Indiana Pacers defeating the Houston Rockets on Wednesday in the NBA bubble, the Boston Celtics officially have their first-round opponent.
The third-seeded Celtics will face the sixth-seeded Philadelphia 76ers in the first round of the NBA’s Eastern Conference Playoffs.
Of note, the top-seeded Milwaukee Bucks will host the eighth-seeded Orlando Magic and the No. 2 Toronto Raptors will face the No. 7 Brooklyn Nets. The only seeding yet to be decided is whether the Miami Heat or Indiana Pacers will earn the fourth or fifth seed, or vice versa.
All in all, it’s good for Boston — especially the first-round matchup against the Sixers, which, admittedly, probably wasn’t who the Celtics would’ve liked to end up with entering Orlando.
But that changed now that we know the Sixers will be without NBA All-Star Ben Simmons due to a knee injury suffered in Orlando. And even though the Sixers have yet to rule out Simmons for the season, it was reported by ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski that it would take a “deep run into the playoffs” for a Simmons’ return to even be a possibility, providing a different outlook between a Celtics-76ers series starting next week.
It also means the Celtics would avoid the Milwaukee Bucks until the Eastern Conference Finals, should both teams get there. And maybe on a lesser-but-still-noteworthy note, Boston will avoid the Miami Heat, who Brad Stevens admitted would be a tough matchup due to their size, and the Indiana Pacers, who have got hot behind T.J. Warren in the bubble.
But getting back to Philadelphia, who won three of four games against the Celtics this season, the loss of Simmons could provide a major hit. Against the Celtics, specifically, Simmons scored 24 points with nine assists and eight rebounds on opening night; seven points and six assists in a six-point win in December; 19 points and nine rebounds in an 11-point win in January; and added 23 points and nine rebounds in Boston’s only win over Philly in February.
Simmons has averaged 15.2 points and 5.8 assists in his 12 career games against the Celtics.
And while Simmons’ offensive stats were good this season — 16.4 points per game, 7.8 rebounds, 8.0 assists — his ability to take away an opponents’ best option is something the 76ers may miss even more. Simmons could potentially be named to the NBA All-Defense First Team, and if tasked with either Kemba Walker or Jayson Tatum, it could have greatly impacted how the Celtics went about their offense. After all, Simmons has recorded a defensive rating of 106 in his career against Boston.
Fortunately, though, they won’t have to worry about this time around.
Of course, even with all that being said, the Celtics will still have to play their best basketball on both ends of the court to accomplish what they’re hoping to. And it’d be lying to say their first-round matchup doesn’t give them a better chance to do that.
Thumbnail photo via Bill Streicher/USA TODAY Sports