For several years, the Boston Celtics have had the number of Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers. In 2018, the C’s took down Philly in five games in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. They followed that up by going 3-1 against the Sixers in the 2018-19 regular season.
A large part of that success was due to Al Horford, the kryptonite who regularly thwarted Embiid. On offense, Horford could suck Joel away from the basket and force him to defend the perimeter. On defense, Al was a master of angles who could hold his ground against the league’s premier back-to-the-basket scorer.
The Sixers snatched Horford away last summer, effectively dismantling Boston’s best defense against the big man.
So what have the Celtics done to combat him this season?
A large part of their tactics against Embiid involve constantly switching coverages so that he never gets comfortable knowing what is coming next. What the Celtics do is going to be largely lineup-dependent as well. They have different coverages when the quicker but smaller Daniel Theis is guarding him as opposed to the ground-and-pound Enes Kanter. It’s not just about Embiid either; Philly boasts one of the bigger elite front courts in the league. Spacing and options change when Ben Simmons and Horford are on the floor with Embiid, a three-man lineup combination that is 1.0 points per 100 possessions worse than when the group is split.
What are some of the ways all these factors influence how the Celtics play Embiid?
The Celtics have already played four games against Philly this season, so any meetings in Orlando would take place in a postseason series. If these longtime foes draw each other once again, the way Boston chooses to guard the Sixers big man could go a long way in dictating the outcome of the series.