The Celtics resilience reared its head again with an impressive 117-101 win against the anointed Philadelphia Sixers. The game had its fill of physicality, chippiness, but also young stars just making big-time plays on both sides. Without Jaylen Brown, this felt like the Sixers were being handed the perfect opportunity to steal home-court from Boston and turn this series into what many felt would be the end of the road for a stingy Celtics team. But the Celtics had other plans, and a big part of that was rookie sensation Jayson Tatum.
The final stat line for Tatum was 28 points, 3 rebounds, and 2 assists on 50% shooting from the field. The athleticism difference between him and some of the Sixers perimeter guys was immense, and he responded correctly by bull-rushing the rim and earning himself 12 FTA. Via NBA Stats, Tatum spent 53% of his possessions defended by J.J. Redick or Marco Belinelli and was able to turn that into 16 of his 28 points.
With Jaylen Brown potentially coming back by Game 2, the Sixers are going to have a lot of decisions to make. Guys like Belinelli, Redick, and Ersan Ilyasova are staples of the Sixers identity. However, Boston has a team that is built to exploit some of their defensive shortcomings. It’ll be interesting to see how Philadelphia responds.
The Math Problem
Boston has decided to make a calculated risk. They’ll allow Simmons and Embiid to be defended one-on-one, in return, they will not give up threes. The results? The Sixers shot 5 for 26 from beyond the arc. If you’re a Sixers fan, you’ll point to the fact that you were 5 of 24 on open or wide open shots and that’s probably not going to be a trend that continues throughout the series. If you’re a Celtics fan, the overall attempts are what makes you happy. The Sixers shot nearly five less threes than they averaged in the playoffs and about three less than they averaged in the regular season.
Despite the Sixers’ game plan of overwhelming teams with a barrage of long-distance bombs, they shot just under 37% over the year and are in a similar spot during the playoffs shooting only 36.3% before last nights game. That’s an indicator that despite the team’s high attempts, they are susceptible to streaky performances like in Game 1. That becomes even more clear when you dig into some of the Sixers’ top three-point shooters.
Including this year, J.J. Redick has averaged 34.7% on three-point attempts during his last three playoff runs. During this years stretch, he has shot 41.2% on his catch and shoots opportunities, (which have been his primary diet from beyond the arc), but he’s shooting a mere 10% on pull-up opportunities. The dip also exists when Redick goes within the arc where his percentage drops from 66.7% to 45.5% when he goes from catch and shoots to having to put the ball on the floor. Another thing to watch for Redick is that he only has .8 attempts tracked that are not open or wide open which suggests that he’s not a player who will shoot when he has defenders around him.
Robert Covington has been a streaky all year as well, and in the playoffs, he’s only shooting 32.1% on threes on 4.7 attempts which includes shooting a putrid 27% on open and wide open looks via NBA Stats.
Marco Belinelli is a similar type of shooter to Reddick who prefers to shoot off the move on catch and shoot looks, but if you lower the quality of the looks, he almost becomes unplayable when you weight his defensive shortcomings. During the post season, he shoots 50% on open looks, but when those looks turn tight, his percentages drop to 22.2%.
lyasova, another critical signing for Philadelphia has mostly been a mediocre, low-attempt three-point shooter. In this post season, he hs only averaged three attempts and is shooting 31.6%.
The game plan for the Celtics to go all out on not allowing these guys to get clean looks makes sense. Philadelphia shooters can be good, but they’re all situational shooters that struggle when you take them out of their desired shot profile. The Celtics were the best team in the league last year at defending the 3 point line holding teams to 33.7% shooting. One thing that begins to happen when teams defend the line so well is that it creates an omnipresence for shooters that makes them rush their shots even when the looks are clean. That was a common theme for Philadelphia throughout the second half and one that the Celtics hope to carry over for the entirety of the series.