Game 1 Thoughts: Sixers-Celtics
No team this year or perhaps ever has personified "Next Man Up" more than the Boston Celtics. They have been ravaged by injuries all season, and yet they were the two seed in the East. It continued last night as they were without Jaylen Brown, but still destroyed the favored Philadelphia 76ers 117-101. Most experts and I picked the Sixers in six, and that is still possible, but this won't be easy for the Sixers. Brad Stevens continues to make all the right adjustments, Al Horford is the glue that holds it all together, and the role players are stepping up at the right time. Last night everyone ate for the Celtics in a convincing victory. So what did we learn in game one and what can we expect in the series going forward?
Usually when you make 17 threes, and the other team makes five you’re going to win. That's what happened last night, but how did the Celtics make so many and how were the Sixers so cold? Let's start with the Celtics. Aron Baynes and Marcus Smart hit two threes, Semi Ojeleye hit one and Shane Larkin hit one as well. The role players went off. The Sixers will count on the law of averages that these players won't make so many threes again. Then there is Terry Rozier going crazy and hitting seven threes. Some of these threes were crazy shots, but a lot were wide open. This is something the Sixers need to fix. They are capable and way better defensively then they showed in game one. This is the second best three-point defense in basketball. Philadelphia needs to limit the wide-open threes in transition. Watch this clip.
Smart pushes the ball in transition causing a four on three because Embiid and McConnell don't get back fast enough. This leads to a wide-open three for Morris in the corner. Wide open threes happened in transition too many times last night, the Sixers need to do a better job of getting back, even if it means sacrificing a few offensive rebounds.
This was a theme of the night. The Sixers were just a step slow, often cross-matched and not on the same page. Boston was smart and targeted certain Sixers, especially Marco Belinelli and boy did he have a rough game. He finished -23 for the game. Here is Boston once again getting Philly cross-matched again in transition, and Belinelli is on Horford. Horford goes right to work and posts Belinelli into oblivion and dunks.
Here is another example of Boston creating chaos in transition. Horford got switched onto Belinelli, and Larkin quickly feeds him the ball. One spin and one dribble and he is at the rim dunking. Again too easy for the Celtics. The Sixers communication in transition defense must be better.
Philly got in trouble sometimes with switching and in transition. Horford did a good job of being aggressive with 26 points on ten of twelve shooting. Dude is a stud. To win this series, he is going to need to be aggressive and efficient. Same goes for Tatum. Even though he is a rookie, he has an advantage in this series. Tatum had 28 points; got to the line twelve times and along with Horford were a team best +18 for the game. Once again the Sixers made a mistake of putting Marco on Tatum at times, and that went poorly. Watch this clip.
Tatum inbounds to Horford and immediately gets the ball back. He sees Marco on him and its "barbeque chicken." Tatum gets downhill quick with a beautiful crossover, and then he is at the rim for an easy layup. The Sixers need to get Marco away from this matchup as much as possible.
We will talk more about Marco and the Sixers adjustments later, but why were the Sixers so cold from deep? Philly was five for 26 last night, an unfathomable number for the number of great shooters they have. Give credit to Boston, they decided to stay home on the shooters and live with the Sixers getting good looks in the paint. They didn't double Embiid and guarded him one on one either with Horford or Baynes. Both are capable even though Horford is the better option.
It didn't matter much as Embiid had 31 points and 13 rebounds, but twos are better than threes. If Embiid eats and the shooters are quiet, Brad Stevens will live with that. Two of the five Sixers’ threes came from Embiid for god's sake. Philly won't be so cold from three going forward, but they need to make some changes. One is pushing the ball a little more. Here is one of the few good looks the Sixers got from three, and it came in semi-transition before the Celtics defense was set.
Simmons pushes the ball and goes to the top right of the key. Marco acts as a trailer and comes over behind Simmons. All Simmons has to do is turn around and pass it to Marco for a wide-open three. It happens so quickly that Smart can't get there in time and Simmons also sets a smart little brush screen to make sure he doesn't get there. Philly can put pressure on Boston by using their shooters as trailers in transition. Simmons and Embiid get so much attention that there will be some good looks for them.
The Sixers are deep and versatile, and they create all sorts of interesting lineups. In this series, they need to trust their starters more and play them more minutes. The starters in 13 minutes had a net rating of +13.1 last night. Even though Dario, Covington, and Simmons all struggled, this is their best defensive unit. It is not their best shooting lineup, but it gives them good ball movement and defense. There is no real weak link. For the bench players, I would look to give T.J McConnell and Justin Anderson some more burn.
McConnell can frustrate Rozier and can run the Sixers offense when Simmons is on the bench and is good enough/ smart enough to play off of Simmons. Anderson is a good option for dealing with Tatum and Brown when he comes back. You lose some shooting with Anderson, but he is tough and will compete.
Both had positive plus/minuses in game one. Belinelli's minutes may need to be cut down, and when they do play him, they need to be careful of the matchups because Boston will continue to hunt him. The best lineup to use him in is with Redick, Ilyasova, Embiid, and Simmons. For one, guarding Redick and Belinelli at the same time is exhausting for defenses and on the other end Embiid's rim protection can make up for some mistakes.
I also like going small with Ilyasova at the five. Horford will give him some problems, but he will hold his own enough. He is a good enough rebounder, he had nine last night, and his shooting and crafty passing are weapons on offense.
What Boston Needs to do
For Boston, keep shooting threes! It has been their best offense all year and their best chance to win this series. They won't make as many going forward, but their attempts still need to be high. They also need to protect the ball. Having only ten turnovers was huge in Game 1. When Philadelphia gets a live ball turnover, they are a nightmare, and Boston needs to keep the turnovers under twelve.
Horford, Rozier, and Tatum all need to continue to be aggressive. They are all capable scorers, despite what people say and they made the Sixers work last night. On defense, I like the strategy of staying home on the shooters and living with Philly getting points in the paint. Boston won't win the battle of the boards, but as long as they don't get crushed, they will be able to hang around. Philadelphia will be better in game two, the threes will even out a bit, and Philly may not miss nine free throws again. Boston needs to be ready for the Sixers’ counter punch. The Sixers are more talented, but the Celtics can win this series, and they are playing with house money right now. Game two will be more intense and closer, and I am psyched!