The kids are alright: This point has been hammered home so many times during the regular season and certainly in the playoffs, but the young core of this team is something special. Consider that the Bucks fielded a unit with 18 years of experience between them including arguably one of the best players in the league in Giannis Antetokounmpo against a Celtics team fielding a starting lineup with two rookies (Ojeleye, a second rounder), a sophomore, and a third-year guard.
Terry Rozier might have had his ups and downs in the series, but Scary Terry was clutch when it mattered. A lot of fans will point to his scoring, but Rozier also had 47 assists with just 11 turnovers over the seven games. That’s a 4.27 assist-to-TO rate, better than Playoff Rajon Rondo, Chris Paul, and Kyle Lowry.
Scoring is much more difficult in the playoffs. Game after game, teams start scheming against you and by the end, you’re relying on the 4th and 5th best thing you can do. Jayson Tatum had a few uncharacteristic Tatum games to start the series, but finished strong. Like Terry, his growth as a playmaker became a key element to the success of the Celtics. During the regular season, the rookie had 11 games with 4 or more assists; against Milwaukee, he closed out the series with 12 dimes over the final three games. His 15.4 ppg average as a 20-year-old have been impressive in the playoffs, but his ability to involve the rest of his team will not just elevate his game, but the team’s.
Jaylen Brown will have an MRI today on his grade 1 hamstring strain and claims that he “wouldn’t miss this (Sixers) series for the world.” Brad Stevens was a little more guarded during Game 7 and after clinching the series with Brown’s availability, noting how tricky hamstring injuries can be and how the outlook of Jaylen’s future career is more important. There may be some conjecture with Brown’s status vs. Philly, but there’s no doubt about his breakout this post season.
Had he finished Game 7, Brown would have been Boston’s leading scoring in the playoffs. He dropped 30 and 34 in the series, shooting a robust 46.7% from the field. The development in his ball handling and perimeter shooting has been eye-opening. Unlike Tatum, Brown wasn’t a ready-made NBA contributor in his first year. So many times last season, Brown would attack a close out strong but finish with a turnover or a double clutch, flip shot miss in the restricted area. This year, he’s either shooting nearly 40% from behind the arc or dunking at the rim.
Specialists: After Game 7, Brad Stevens said that the Celtics don’t win this series against the Bucks without Semi Ojeleye’s play on Giannis Antetokounmpo. Horford echoed those same sentiments in his post-game presser: “Semi is probably the guy that we need to be talking about because defensively, we’re not able to do all the things we were able to do without Semi”. Ojeleye started Games 5, 6, and 7 and his affect was felt immediately. The Greek Freak only mustered ten field goal attempts in Game 5 and was 7-for-17 in Game 7, his worst shooting performance of the series.
The Sixers pose a whole new slew of problems for Boston. In the regular season series that the Celtics won 3-1, Horford predominantly covered Ben Simmons and Aron Baynes wrestled Joel Embiid. Stevens could opt to go small again with Semi on Simmons and Horford sliding down to check Embiid, but my guess is, he’ll try to limit Horford’s minutes at the 5 and stick with Baynes.
Home court matters: The Celtics won three more games than the Sixers and that gives Boston the distinct advantage of hosting the first two games of the second round (and more importantly, potentially a pivotal Game 5 at TD Garden). Whether it’s the roar of the crowd or sleeping in their own beds the night before, HCA has proven to be a determining factor for the Celtics’ offense.
In the regular season, the home and road splits were negligible, but during the intensity of the playoffs, shots have fallen at a much higher clip. Boston is shooting a whopping 47.8% on the parquet (37.7% from behind the arc). On the road, it drops considerably to 39.5% (31.5%). Much of that comes from turning defense into offense; the Celtics average 19.8 ppg off turnovers at home and just 10.3 ppg away from the Garden.
Marcus Smart is streaky: No, we’re not talking about Marcus’ mercurial jump shot. It’s his--say it with me--winning plays. Smart just goes through stretches where his energy and frankly, brash bravado, carry him and the team through some game-defining runs. Yesterday, he entered Game 1 with the Celtics down 13-10 with 5:43 left in the 1st. By the end of the quarter, Smart and the 2nd unit had erased that lead and built a 13-point lead.
Of course, it wasn’t all Smart, but you can just feel the complexion of the game flip after Smart jumps this passing lane for a steal and a layup:
And then there was this hard drive and kick out to Baynes to close out the quarter for the maestro of momentum:
With three games under his belt, he’ll need to be a bigger factor against Philly. He’s 6-for-23 since returning from his thumb injury, so as he gets more comfortable, a scoring punch from the pending restricted free agent could go a long way in ensuring his future in Boston.