Without Kyrie Irving, Celtics Face Gut-Check Game Vs. New-Look 76ers

Things haven’t been pretty for the Boston Celtics this season and they might become a whole lot uglier Tuesday night when the sliding Green head to Philadelphia to face the new-look 76ers without Kyrie Irving.

Last week, Boston blew back-to-back leads of 18 or more points in losses to the Los Angeles Lakers and Los Angeles Clippers, respectively. The latter of which caused the C’s to get booed off the TD Garden floor and led to forward Marcus Morris lashing out at his teammates for their lack of attitude and toughness, while noting the Celtics haven’t been having fun for a long time.

Reports have been leaking out all season about the discontent within the Celtics’ locker room, from players being unhappy with the amount of court time Gordon Hayward is seeing, to Kyrie Irving’s wishy-washy commitment to his future as a Celtic, few things have gone right this season, a campaign that many saw ending with an NBA Finals berth.

While the NBA trade-deadline talk surrounding Anthony Davis clearly affected the young Lakers, the deadline passing with Davis still on the New Orleans Pelicans, and thus putting the Celtics front-and-center for this summer’s sweepstakes, might have impacted the C’s younger players — namely Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — who now could be questioning their future with the franchise.

With all that being said, Boston arrives in the City of Brotherly Love on Tuesday night to face the new-and-improved 76ers in the third game of the “Big 5” or “Phantastic 5” (h/t Tim Bontemps) era, or whatever they are calling their lastest iteration after the trade-deadline acquisition of Tobias Harris.

In two games since trading for the star forward, the 76ers have looked like an offensive juggernaut. While neither the Lakers or Denver Nuggets rank in the middle of the NBA in defense, Philadelphia torched both teams and is averaging 130 points per game with their new-look starting five, while shooting 47.7 percent from the 3-point line and 53.8 percent from the field.

Talk of depth issues has been mollified so far by Brett Brown’s ability to stagger the minutes of Joel Embiid, Jimmy Butler, Ben Simmons and Harris, making sure at least one of them is on the floor at all times with JJ Redick continuing to provide ridiculous long-range shooting ability.

In their first two games together, each member of the starting five is scoring in double figures, and Harris has given Philadelphia’s offense a new dimension. Harris is shooting 41.7 on catch-and-shoot opportunities this season but also is effective with the ball in his hands, demanding teams put a good defender on him. He’s also been a great addition to the frontcourt alongside Embiid, as Harris’ ability to stretch the floor has taken other bigs out of the paint and given Embiid the space to operate inside.

With Irving out Tuesday with a sprained knee, Brad Stevens will have his hands full trying to figure out the best way to match up with the high-powered 76ers. While Boston is a good defensive team, adding Harris allows Philly the opportunity to hunt mismatches against Hayward, Terry Rozier and Irving later on down the road.

Boston has slipped to fifth in the Eastern Conference after last week’s debacle and they’ll head to Philly without their star player and with a whole lot of questions to face a team that now could be the best in the Eastern Conference after its trade-deadline reshaping.

Tuesday could be the night the C’s band together and start their upward trend as the playoffs approach. Or, it could be the night Philadelphia enters the rivalry and adds to Boston’s ever-growing misery.

Thumbnail photo via Winslow Townson/USA TODAY Sports Images

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