For the last few hours, I’ve watched film and written about The TJ McConnell Game. I tried to analyze how a 6’2 guard inserted into the starting lineup could cut up the Celtics defense for nineteen points (most of them, in the paint) and five assists. I tried to figure out if the coverages on Dario Saric needed to be addressed after the big man was Philly’s leading scorer with an efficient 25. I tried to convince myself that the foul disparity in the second quarter had everything to do with how poorly the Celtics played in the second half.
And then I scrapped it all because ultimately, this was arguably the worst Celtics performance in the post season and so much of it had to do with their own undoing rather than anything that Sixers taking advantage of some new wrinkle. Brad Stevens knows it:
"They were really good tonight. Hats off to their team. They were terrific."— NBA TV (@NBATV) May 8, 2018
Brad Stevens following the Game 4 loss pic.twitter.com/iJbVia38tj
Offensive rebounds and turnovers. Offensive rebounds and turnovers. So much of the analysis and hand wringing can end right there. With the Sixers pulling down 16 offensive rebounds for 18 second chance points and turning 15 TO’s into 16 points, that’s the game right there. Both teams hovered around 40% from the field, but Philadelphia had 94 field goal attempts to Boston’s 75. It’s a make or miss league, but you gotta get the shots up to even have a chance.
The series now shifts to Boston as the Celtics look to complete the gentlemen’s sweep and they’ll have some comforts at home to look forward to. They’re nearly 10 points better from behind the arc at TD Garden. Their tough defense benefits from a home whistle and generates more turnovers and in turn, score more points in transition.
And yet, the 76ers enter Game 5 as 2-point favorites. Why? There are probably those in Vegas that think replacing Robert Covington in the starting lineup with TJ McConnell will have a lasting effect on the series. It moves Ben Simmons off ball and closer to the basket in the half court. Philadelphia did pound Boston in the paint for 52 points. I don’t think that’s repeated.
Marcus Smart suggested that they expected the switch going into Game 4, but they certainly didn’t respond to it. McConnell cut up the defense and scored everything in the paint. This should be pinned to Terry Rozier’s locker for the next two days:
T.J. McConnell had an efficient 19 points on 12 shots, going 6-of-8 near the basket. Three of his five assists led to shots at the rim, and he grabbed seven rebounds and was plus-18. (@presidual) #RingerNBA pic.twitter.com/7tXHqCMBmu— The Ringer (@ringer) May 8, 2018
It was a lay up line for the 6’2 point guard. But with that said, there shouldn’t be a major adjustment here. Rozier and Smart are more than capable of containing McConnell as a scorer.
It’s possible that the odds makers see a chippier game being an advantage for the bigger front court of Saric, Simmons, and Joel Embiid. Even though their box score numbers look respectable, that’s fool’s gold. Despite Saric’s breakout game, the Celtics will continue to allow Philadelphia’s bigs to post up in the paint. More than a third of Embiid’s shots come from backing down and he’s converted a paltry 0.78 points per possession. By comparison, Al Horford scores 1.24 ppp. Saric is slightly better than Embiid at 0.91 and Simmons is much worse at 0.54 ppp.
But maybe this is no longer a strategic or statistical argument anymore. As all series progress, teams are forced to do the fourth and fifth and sixth best things they’re good at (i.e. McConnell and Saric going off) and it really comes down to getting nasty and wanting it more. Returning home, Smart had these prophetic words:
Marcus Morris echoed those sentiments and said, “$h*t, I’m ready to go right now.” Asked about his run in with Embiid, Rozier was a little more Kyrie, a little more philosophical: “to set the record straight, I wake up every morning not worried about nobody, no man on this earth.”
The Celtics don’t sound like a team that was caught off guard by some coaching adjustments or treated unfairly by the refs or the basketball gods. They sound like a confident bunch that knows that they didn’t show up in Game 4 and will be ready for another elimination game in Game 5.