After last Thursday night’s game against the Philadelphia 76ers showed, the Celtics seem to have a major problem on their hands if they want to win the Eastern Conference. Joel Embiid took over the game and dominated in the fourth quarter to push the Sixers to a win. The first half was promising. There were many times where Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis made him uncomfortable and affected his post-up game, however, as the game went along, Embiid wore down the interior defense of the Celtics enough to seal another victory.
Throughout this season, the biggest cause for concern for the Celtics has been their front court. Daniel Theis has shown promise on the offensive to generate a little hope, but it is nothing consistent enough to rely on night-to-night. Grant Williams is just a rookie who has been a negative on the offensive end even though he does all the little things correctly. Then, there is Enes Kanter, the big man who was given a two-year deal coming into the season. He has historically been a bit of a hole on the defensive end with his stints around the league. With all this, Coach Brad Stevens looked towards Kanter and Theis much of this last game against Embiid.
This match up Thursday night was another display of how the Celtics try to limit Embiid. They kept the starting lineup the same and first had Daniel Theis face up against him with helping double teams. The problem was when you let Embiid get down in the paint, it does not matter how many bodies you throw at him he will power up and get an easy two.
Throughout this game, Theis struggled with the physicality of Embiid. Just the game before, Theis showed positive signs on the defensive end when he paired up against Domantas Sabonis. Their games matched up much better than the post-heavy game of Joel Embiid. It was too numerous of times where Theis let him get deep inside the paint and had another easy bucket.
Again a double team comes over, but Embiid still gets his way easily around Theis on the face up and drives into the paint. This just cannot happen if a team expects to slow down Embiid. The goal is to either let him shoot mid-range jumpers, or body him up early before he gets going toward the basket.
Surprisingly, Enes Kanter is actually did the best against Embiid Thursday. While Embiid still had a great night, Kanter showed some signs of being the Celtics’ best option. Kanter can match the physicality and attempt to limit Embiid’s bully ball style down low.
Both of these clips show just this and proved that if defenders can hold their ground around the basket, this will make Embiid uncomfortable. A shove back at him causing him to go into his hook shot is the best chance to stall his offensive production. With this play in the first, Embiid became the main focus of Kanter’s minutes. When he was on the court, Stevens had Kanter out there. This worked for a good chunk of the second and third quarters.
Unfortunately, Kanter wore down a bit over the game and his defense became a bit lazy. He, and the rest of the Celtics, sent Embiid to the free throw line eight times in the fourth quarter of this game. From there, he was able to find his groove and started knocking down jump shots. If there was a major weakness in Kanter’s defense, it was here in the fourth quarter. It was a tough ending as he gathered three fouls defensively and Embiid ended with 16 points in the quarter.
Again, this game shows that the Celtics have a big problem in their efforts to win a seven game series against Joel Embiid and this 76ers team. They do not have Al Horford, the Embiid stopper, anymore, and it is showing. The Celtics could make a move and trade for a dynamic front court big, but any of the prospects who would be good enough to make an impact against Embiid are most likely be too expensive on the trade market.
The keys for the Celtics is just to build on this hole in their roster. The front court depth, specifically interior defense, is lacking but with work on their defensive schemes and tactics, they do not have to be intimidated by a match ups against bigs like Embiid. The strategy would stay the same with anyone. Return the physicality, keep them away from the basket, and let them settle for mid-range or three-point attempts. If they beat you on those, so be it. This is much easier said then done, but this is at least the idea of how to deal with Joel Embiid.