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What to watch for in the Celtics v. 76ers semifinals

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Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP)
Boston Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla calls to players during the first half against the Atlanta Hawks in Game 5 in a first-round NBA basketball playoff series, April 25, 2023, in Boston. (Charles Krupa/AP)

The Boston Celtics faced off against the Philadelphia 76ers in the first game of the Eastern Conference semifinals on Monday night.

Keith Pompey, who covers the Sixers for the Philadelphia Inquirer, said he expects the series to be heated. For one, the Sixers "just hate losing to Boston," he told WBUR's Weekend Edition host Sharon Brody on Sunday. The two franchises have also played each other more than any other NBA team in the postseason.

Drawing on his 10 years of reporting on the NBA, Pompey shared his analysis for the Celtics v. Sixers playoffs, which kicked off at 7:30 p.m. on Monday at TD Garden.

The Celtics' weak point that the Sixers might exploit:

While Pompey thinks the Celtics will ultimately win the eastern conference series, he said there are still some weak points the Sixers could take advantage of. One comes to mind: Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla.

"Not to say that he's a flaw because he's not, but he's an inexperienced guy, so sometimes you make rookie mistakes," Pompey said.

A few of the people with history on both teams:

  • Glenn Anton "Doc" Rivers, aka Doc Rivers, the second winningest coach in Boston Celtics history, left Boston in 2020 to become the Sixers' head coach. "People love Doc Rivers, and now he's going to go in there and they're going to boo him," Pompey said.
  • Al Horford's current run as a center for the Celtics isn't his first go-round with Boston — he played for the Celtics for three seasons after signing as a free agent in the 2016 off-season. Then, in 2019, he signed with the Sixers, a move that prompted Celtics fans to call him a traitor, according to Pompey. Horford made his way back to Boston just ahead of the 2021 season; now, former teammates like Joel Embiid have to remember to square him as the enemy.

The decades-long Celtics-Sixers rivalry:

Pompey said Sixers fans are taught to hate not only the Celtics but everything about Boston. But he challenges the claim that Philly fans are tougher than those of other teams.

"I think that Philadelphia gets a bad rap, just like the Oakland Raiders used to get, because it sounds great to say we're tough, we're this, we're that. But they're no tougher than the people in Boston, the people in New York," he said.

Still, the Celtics should expect a vocal crowd when they get to Philly for Game 3. Pompey said both players and fans alike understand this is a tough draw for the Sixers, citing the Celtics' "firepower" talent in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown.

"The Sixers know if they want to accomplish what they want to accomplish, you have to beat your big brother, so to speak. And that's the Celtics," Pompey said.

This article was originally published on May 01, 2023.

This segment aired on April 30, 2023.

Headshot of Sharon Brody

Sharon Brody News Host
Sharon Brody is the voice of WBUR's weekends. On Saturdays and Sundays, she anchors the news for Weekend Edition and other popular programs.

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