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Shamrock Notes: Al Horford magic and Aron Baynes appreciation

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In one of the most entertaining games of the season, the Celtics frontcourt took their game to another level.

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

For the infinite time in a row, the Boston Celtics are proving everyone wrong and have now forced the Sixers into a must-win situation after a spectacular 108-103 win. Unlike the first matchup, where the big story was the Sixers shooters being unable to hit anything, the theme of Game 2 was the 26-8 run the Celtics closed out the first half which completely eviscerated 18 minutes of dominating Sixers basketball.

J.J. Redick was unconscious, the defense was swarming, and it seemed like it was going to be one of those nights where the Sixers’ shooters hit everything and put 130 on the Celtics in the Garden. Instead, Boston went into the half only down 5. But this game wasn’t over at halftime, in fact, the game wasn’t clinched until under a minute in regulation when Al Horford did this:

The play here appears to be just a simple PnR, but this was a set that the Celtics repeatedly ran down the stretch as their new version of the star player plus Horford pick-and-roll. Let’s get into what made it so useful.

In the second half of Game 1, one of the backbreaking plays was an Al Horford 3 out of the PnR.

As you can see, Embiid drops all the way into the paint giving Horford all the time he needs to wind up and bury the trey. In response, the Sixers tasked Embiid with still ICE’ing the PnR but being proactive in recovering back out to Horford to eliminate the chance of a three-point shot. During these PnR sets, Boston likes to tell the stunt man’s defender to cut so that the screener (Horford) has a necessary spacing to attack the basket. (For those of you unfamiliar with a “stunt man,” it’s the guy who’s a pass away and helps off his man briefly to slow down any penetration.)

Now, let’s go back to the final play.

It’s the same PnR, and Embiid aggressively defends it again. Horford gets a step on him, but before that, look at the time, look at where Redick is standing, and look at where Smart is standing. Redick was the stunt man, and you could make a compelling case he should have gone over and stunted at Horford considering the situation. However, that may have led to Smart being open which you should live with, but it’s easy to say “if (insert bad shooter) hits that you tip your cap to them,” a lot harder to live with it at the moment.

Anyway, with a path cleared, it’s a two vs. one scenario for Saric, does he help off and give Morris a wide open three or stay home? It’s an impossible choice. For most stretch bigs, a hard closeout is a cause to pass the ball right back to their ball-handler. For Horford, it gives arguably the C’s best passer a chance to be the lead decision-maker in a drive and kick scenario. Just because you’re taking away a three from Horford, doesn’t mean you’re taking away an opportunity from the team to generate one. Al Horford made them pay.

One time for the big man

I would be remiss if I didn’t give a quick shoutout to Aron Baynes of House of Baynes. After Embiid had his way in the 2nd half of Game 1, Baynes responded nicely in Game 2 by holding Embiid to 4-12 shooting against him for 10 points. There’s not a lot of guys that are comparable in size to Embiid that can stick with him on the perimeter like this:

Or go blow-to-blow with him in the post:

The Celtics ability to chase around the Sixers shooters, throw multiple bodies at Simmons, and have a guy that can frustrate Embiid bodes well for their chances of winning two more games in five tries.