Rested Celtics host short-handed 76ers
BOSTON — Brad Stevens got to do something with his Boston Celtics on Wednesday he hadn’t been able to do in over a month.
Have a full practice.
A rigorous schedule that saw the Celtics play more games than all but one other NBA team through Tuesday meant a lack of quality practice time with days of rest, travel and shoot-arounds dominating the non-game days.
After losing to the visiting Detroit Pistons on Monday night, the Celtics actually got in a full practice Wednesday, with the Philadelphia 76ers coming to town Thursday night.
“A shoot-around is more like a walkthrough, making sure we understand the game,” Celtics forward Al Horford said. “But in practice, it’s very productive anytime we’re able to go out and actually have a good practice.”
Said Stevens: “It’s nice to be back out here. You’re obviously balancing the opportunity to practice with what’s coming ahead. And also the schedule you’ve just been through.
“I thought our attention was really good. I thought our purpose was good.”
There was another factor in Boston’s favor.
According to Celtics radio voice Sean Grande’s Twitter account, when the Celtics catch the Sixers on a back-to-back Thursday, it will end a run of 14 consecutive games in which Boston’s opponent had the same or more rest. The Celtics went 12-2 in that stretch.
The Celtics (18-4) had their eight-game home winning streak snapped by the Pistons. On Thursday, they will face a Philadelphia team that will be missing big man Joel Embiid. The Sixers beat the Washington Wizards 118-113 on Wednesday night, but Embiid and his legs still aren’t ready to play back-to-back games.
“That’s not my decision that I’m not cleared yet, but I hope the guys get a win tomorrow,” Embiid said.
Coach Brett Brown said, “I think Joel has always wanted to play in front of our fans — like he feels responsibility when we have choices to play in front of our own fans.”
Valuable 76ers guard T.J. McConnell sustained a shoulder contusion Wednesday, and he isn’t expected to play Thursday. Philadelphia rookie guard Markelle Fultz has missed the past 15 games with a shoulder injury.
Justin Anderson (shin splints) is also out for the Sixers (12-8).
Ben Simmons, whose rookie year was delayed until this season because of injury, sustained an ankle sprain Monday night and was a game-time decision Wednesday.
He played against the Wizards, scoring 31 points (despite going just 15-for-29 from the foul line) and grabbed 18 rebounds. Embiid had 25 points and 18 boards. The win ended a 4-2 homestand for Philadelphia.
According to the team, the only other Sixers rookie every to post at least 30 points and 15 rebounds in a game was Hall of Famer Billy Cunningham on January 9, 1966, at St. Louis.
The teams played Oct. 20 in Philadelphia, and the Celtics, who lost free agent signee Gordon Hayward for the year in the first quarter of the first game and dropped their first two, started a 16-game winning streak with a 102-92 win. Boston’s Kyrie Irving had 21 points and Horford 17 points and nine rebounds in that game.
Embiid scored 11 points and hauled down 14 boards in the loss, so his size and strength will be missed Thursday. Simmons collected 11 points, 11 rebounds and five assists in that game.
Thursday marks the return to TD Garden of Philadelphia’s Amir Johnson, who played the past two seasons with the Celtics before signing with the Sixers as a free agent. He is expected to start in place of Embiid. Johnson is averaging 4.4 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
The Celtics have won all six games against Philadelphia at TD Garden over the past three seasons.