Celtics Game 7 Review and More
It took the Celtics 7 games to dispatch the Bucks in the opening round of the NBA Playoffs. Here are a few observations about the game itself and a few about the second round
Al Horford Does His Part
Horford has been a pillar of consistency over the past two seasons for the Celtics contributing night in and night out but Saturday’s game may have been his finest hour in a Celtics uniform as of yet. Flanked by good but young players, Horford took his game to the next level in Game 7 and let his veteran leadership shine. Aggressive in the paint and out working his defenders in the post, Al was a huge part of the win shooting 13-17 for 26 points. While Horford is not a flashy star, its key performances like this that serve as a reminder of his consistency and why he is so important to this young core. He often gets lost in the shuffle of all Boston’s shiny new toys but make no mistake, he is the true cornerstone of this Celtics squad in the absence of Kyrie Irving. No stranger to the playoff during his tenure in Atlanta, he was focused and steadied from the tip, influencing the rest of the team to play un-pressured. They will need more of this from him if they want to win in round 2
Terry Comes Up Roses
After a Game 1 that had him looking the part of a NBA postseason starter, Terry Rozier had periods throughout the series where he struggled to gain any real offensive traction. Luckily, he found his stroke in Game 7 for 26 points and 5-8 shooting from 3-point range alongside 9 assists. Rozier made sure Eric Bledsoe or Bucks fans won’t be forgetting his name anytime soon with a legendary Game 7. Rozier is going to have a tough time with Ben Simmons but his ability to create off the dribble will help his cause as long as he exhibits the same accuracy he showed in game 7.
If the Boston Celtics ever trade Marcus Smart, I’m driving to Boston and wrapping Danny Ainge’s car in saran wrap. He was brilliant in Game 7 in not only keeping the energy level up, whipping the Garden crowd into frenzied state but in being an emotional spark plug for his team and the ultimate scrapper/instigator against the opposition.. There is no denying once he returned from injury the entire pace of play of the series was altered. The run and gun free flowing insanity of the first four games was replaced with a metered rhythm anchored by his ability to slow the Bucks offense and balance Boston’s. The last 3 games sum up his short career perfectly: intangible gifts and defensive plays that don’t show up in the box score but show up in the win column being his most important contributions. His pass from the floor with 3 Bucks players piled on top of him to seal the win in Game 5 will be my lasting image from the 2018 First Round. Without Smart harassing and working harder than anyone else on the court in these last few games, the C’s could already be eating lobstah and golfing on Cape Cod.
Jayson Tatum scored 20 points in Game 7 and has looked wise beyond his rookie years in the first series of his young career but the number that stuck out to me after Saturday’s game was the +24. Tatum was a fully functional usable piece during his minutes on the floor Saturday, obvious proof he has ingrained himself into the C’s brand of basketball but more importantly, showing the basketball IQ that he exhibited in the regular season is a trait, not a trend. Rookies often struggle to impact games without the ball in their hands but Tatum’s hustle and unselfishness show he has learned nuances of the game that some players are never able to grasp in a very short time. The more confident he becomes, the better, and with a series against a very impressive young Sixers squad up next, the Celtics are going to continue to need him to play smart, team focused basketball.
Second Round Thoughts
The Celtics have drawn a tough opponent in the Philadelphia 76ers that looked every part a powerhouse in their series with the Miami Heat. Having Jaylen Brown possibly missing the first games of the series with a hamstring injury is already putting the C’s at a disadvantage as he was the most consistent scorer for them in the first round with the exception of Game 7. The 76ers outsize the Celtics and are brimming with confidence after their first series win as a team buuuuttt… the Celtics have a slight advantage having a roster of players that have a slight edge in playoff experience. Brad Stevens started Semi Ojeleye in Game 7 as a way to contend with the size of Giannis and we should expect Ojeleye to see a few more starts against the bigger Sixers squad. The Celtics were the best version of themselves in Game 7 against Milwaukee and if they can achieve the same kind of synergy in the second round, I believe they can take the series in 7. Home-court may be the key again as the Celtics looked AWFUL on the road in the first round against a weaker opponent. No matter the outcome, this series is a look into the future as this should be the first of many playoff meetings between these two rising squads.