Following Tuesday's 103-88 loss to the Minnesota Timberwolves, Sixers coach Doug Collins was at a loss of words. Part of that was probably due to his team's lackluster effort, part of it was probably due to the fact that he didn't want to say anything that he would regret. Colliins talked of his team being punched in the mouth and he not knowing how they would react. Their toughness appeared to be in question and the fact that they laid such an egg against a struggling team brought suggestions of playing to the level of competition.
Players can, and have to, put such outings behind them much quicker than coaches. Collins said Thursday at practice that his team will be ready to play tonight, when they host the Celtics before traveling to Boston for another game on Saturday.
Boston is a team that seems to bring out the best in the Sixers as the two danced to a Game 7 in last year's Eastern Conference semifinal playoff series. Earlier this seaon the Sixers went up to Boston and laid a 106-100 loss on the home team. In that one, Jrue Holiday and Evan Turner were spectacular as Turner went for 25 points and 11 rebounds and Holiday posted 21 points and 14 assists.
A key to that game, and a big one tonight, is how much of an advantage the Sixers can get when star center Kevin Garnett is on the bench. This has been an area of concern for the Celtics all season, as the 36 year-old usually is on the bench for about 18 minutes of the game. When Garnett is in the game, expect to see plenty of Lavoy Allen pushing him away from the basket, using his superior strength to bother Garnett.
Another key defensive matchup for the Sixers is Evan Turner on Paul Pierce. Pierce got out to a very slow start in the first game while Turner played well throughout the night. If Turner can at least stay about even in the statistical categories with Pierce, that is an advantage to the Sixers.
The biggest key for the Sixers defensively is Boston point guard Rajon Rondo. It is a given that he will dish his 15 or so assists. He will also get to the basket and score some eye-popping layups. But he will also turn the ball over, and the Sixers will have to take advantage of that. They will also allow him to shoot outside jumpers as opposed to driving and setting up himself and others. If he isn't shooting well from the outside, that will be a big advantage for the Sixers.
Bench play has been sketchy for the Sixers of late and they will be without Nick Young (turf toe) and Royal Ivey (groin strain) tonight. Kwame Brown had a stomach virus, but should be able to go. It will be a lot of minutes for the starters, but reserve big man Spencer Hawes will need to cure his shooting woes, be active on the backboard and make the Celtics bigs be aware of him on the court.