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The Boston Celtics took control of the Eastern Conference semifinals with their win in Game 3 over the Philadelphia 76ers. The Celtics have finally started to play defense, and it showed. They responded after a Game 1 loss at home, and now Philadelphia is in a must-win situation. The 76ers can’t afford to go back to Boston down 3-1 and expect to win the series. The opening tip on Sunday is scheduled for 3:30 p.m. ET from Wells Fargo Arena. Let’s look at the best ways to make money on the action.
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Joe Mazzulla challenged his team to continue playing quality defense in Game 3, and they answered the call. The Celtics brought a different intensity in Games 2 and 3, than in Game 2. This backcourt production for Boston has shown they’re the best team in the league. The 76ers didn’t play terribly in Game 3, but they were outmatched by the best team remaining in the NBA Playoffs.
In Game 2, the Sixers only scored 87 points. They were much better in Game 3, dropping 102 points, but this will not be good enough against the Celtics. If the Sixers can score around 120 points, they have a chance to win. However, the construction of their current roster isn’t built to surpass Boston. Joel Embiid’s injury has slowed him down, and he needs help from his teammates. The specific player that we’re referring to is James Harden.
Harden is a choke artist in the postseason, and we’re beginning to see this in the Eastern Conference semifinals. He dropped 45 points in Game 1, and has gone quiet ever since. Harden was 3 of 14 from the field, scoring 16 in Game 3. If he can get going, it will make the Sixers' job much easier against Boston.
The Celtics outscored the Sixers by eight points in the second quarter, and they continued to put their foot down in the second half. They were unaffected by the Philadelphia crowd, so don’t be swayed by home-court advantage. If Jayson Tatum is locked into the game, it could be a long night for Philadelphia. We believe this game will be closer than Game 3, but a similar result will occur down the stretch.
Game 3 was the first time the Celtics put together a complete offensive performance from their stars combined with great defense. Game 2 was a better defensive outing for Boston, but it Tatum only scored seven points for his team. This isn’t going to be a commonality moving forward for the Celtics. Tatum needs to be better than seven points, and he responded in Game 3.
The superstar dropped 27 points and shot 50% from the field. He was amazing from inside the arch, going 7 of 9. His effort was combined with a solid night from Jaylen Brown. Brown doesn't receive a lot of love nationally because he’s overshadowed by Tatum, but he is consistently good. I wouldn’t define Brown as a seesaw player like Tatum.
Boston has trouble winning in the paint, especially when they coast on defense. If they play down to the Sixers, this could be an issue, but their bench strength helps make up for the flaw. Malcolm Brogdon, the sixth man of the year, scored 15 points in Game 3. He isn’t afraid to take shots, and his presence has helped Mazzulla give Tatum and Brown rest.
The Celtics are the favorite to win the NBA Finals because of their superstars, who are supported by depth. The same cannot be said about the 76ers currently.
Is Harden going to show up in Game 4? This is the question we need to determine before betting on this matchup. If you look at Harden’s playoff splits, they could be better. He is 83-73 in the postseason, and in 2023, he is averaging just 36% from the field. This number speaks to how badly he has been shooting the ball, considering he had 45 points in Game 1 when he couldn’t miss.
Embiid can only do so much injured. He is still attracting extra defenders in the paint, which has left Harden solo for open looks, and he hasn’t knocked them down consistently. There are other players that can score for Philadelphia, like Tyrese Maxey, but this team is built around the guard. If he can’t score, it will be very tough for Philadelphia to make noise for the rest of the series.
The Celtics have owned the Sixers over the years. Boston is 7-1 ATS in their past eight against Philadelphia. They have also gone 4-1 ATS in their past five games on the road in Philadelphia. Flawless execution is necessary for the Sixers to win on Sunday.
The Celtics define inconsistency. You never know what Tatum and company will do on a given night. However, they do own Philadelphia, and this is meaningful. It doesn’t look like the Sixers believe they can win this series, and they’re probably correct. Tatum scored seven points in Game 2, and the Celtics still won.
The lone win for the Sixers was because Harden dropped 45 points, and Boston didn’t seem to play any defense. This combination won’t happen again in the series. Take the Celtics to cover once again, as it’s the side of the line we can trust. There are more unknowns with Philadelphia compared to Boston.
PICK: Celtics -3 (-110)
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Location: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, PA
Game Time & Date: MAY 7 @ 3:30 p.m ET
Streaming: ESPN App
Tanner Kern has been working in the betting industry since 2020. He currently is a social media content creator at DraftKings and contributes to multiple sites in addition to WSN, including Forbes and VSiN. He is also the cohost of the podcast Ride the Line at WSN.More info on Tanner Kern
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