Coaching: Brad Stevens vs Brett Brown
One could argue Brad Stevens vs Joe Prunty won Boston their opening round series against Milwaukee. Stevens made a couple of smart adjustments (starting Ojeleye, benching Monroe entirely), while Prunty was searching for something that worked all the way through Game 7.
Stevens will have to be at his best again in this matchup, as Philadelphia is far more prepared for the moment than Milwaukee was. If Brown is out, how Stevens juggles the rotation may decide any games that Brown misses. Smart will probably start, but Stevens turn to Abdel Nader? Does he go bigger and play Tatum or Morris more on the wing? That is a decision Stevens didn’t want to make, but likely will have to.
Defensively, how Boston handle Simmons is challenge number one. They’ll probably start with Horford on him, but as many as seven Celtics could see time against the Philly rookie. And where do the Celtics go if Baynes can’t handle Embiid? These are real challenges that Stevens has to sort through with a limited roster.
Brown has proven more than capable as a coach, now that he has the horses to run out on the floor. Even when Philadelphia was bad, they played hard and executed well. They just didn’t have the talent to win. Now they do. Brown has one of the more consistent systems and rotations in the NBA, especially after the team acquired Belinelli and Ilyasova to bolster the bench.
Advantage: Boston. This one leans very, very slightly towards the Celtics. Stevens is proven after a run to the Eastern Conference Finals last season. He’s proven he can make adjustments on the fly. Boston will have some sort of weird wrinkle ready for Philadelphia that no one is expecting. It will be a defensive coverage they haven’t used much. Or maybe an offensive attack that features a player doing unexpected things. This is a kitchen sink series for the Celtics. They’ve got to throw everything at the Sixers than they can. And when they find something that works, Stevens will go to it until Brown adjusts.
Brown has to be smart about his timeout usage in this series His team is prone to stretches where they throw the ball all over the gym. Boston will feast on turnovers if they get them. Brown will have to use his timeouts to quell runs and get his guys back on track. Beyond that, he’ll stick with what has worked for the last two months. Brown has his 9-10 players and puts them in position to succeed. He doesn’t over-coach, mostly because he hasn’t had to. If Stevens can make him make adjustments he wasn’t prepared for, that could steal the Celtics a game or two. And that might make the difference in what should be a competitive series.