1. At this point in the Celtics season, you just have to shrug, laugh and expect the unexpected. Entering tonight, Boston was Team Turmoil and no one was having fun. They were playing the team many have pegged as their rival in the Eastern Conference. And they were playing without Kyrie Irving and Aron Baynes.
So, of course the Celtics won. Because no other outcome would really make sense with the way this season has gone. And because Boston has owned Philadelphia for the last couple of years. Maybe it really is just about going along for the ride and having fun, as Marcus Morris talked about.
2. Without Irving, Stevens went to an old standby that got the Celtics four wins in last season’s playoffs: hunting mismatches. Boston made JJ Redick guard right from the beginning of the game. They either put him in pick and roll actions and forced switches, or they went to Marcus Smart in the post.
When Brett Brown went to the bench, the Celtics got even more aggressive. They eventually played both Boban Marjanovic and Furkan Korkmaz off the floor by forcing them to defend on every trip. Boston’s inside-out offense causes major stress to Philadelphia’s defense and it’s been a key the last two years in a series of victories.
3. The heroes for the night were Al Horford and Gordon Hayward. Let’s start with Horford. What a beast. He finished with 23 points on 9-of-16 shooting, eight rebounds, five assists and four steals. And that doesn’t begin to tell the story of Horford’s efforts against Joel Embiid. Outside of a couple of short stints, Stevens matched Horford to Embiid all game long. And it worked, as Embiid shot just 9-of-22 from the floor.
4. As for Hayward, what a great game. Without Irving, someone had to step up. Smart and Terry Rozier struggled, combining to shoot 5-for-22 from the floor. Considering the opponent and the moment, it was probably Hayward’s best game.
Hayward finished with a team-high 26 points on 8-of-11 shooting, including 6-of-7 from behind the arc. There was no hesitation in his game all night. This is the guy the Celtics signed in the summer of 2017:
5. But it takes more than two guys to win a game like this. Jayson Tatum and Marcus Morris also played big games as well. Morris scored 17 points and always seemed to be there when the Celtics needed a big shot. And Tatum was terrific. He hit inside and outside on his way to 20 points, and he grabbed 10 big rebounds, continuing a solid streak of good work on the glass.
6. Pick and roll defense has been a struggle at times for Boston this year. The Clippers shredded the defense in a manner that made you wonder if the Celtics had ever defended basketball’s most simple and common action. Tonight, Boston ran a clinic in how to defend pick and roll. Because the guards are strong and quick, they are hard to screen. The bigs are mobile and smart. And the wings are long. This gives the Celtics options, especially on switches, that other teams just don’t have. It’s been a key to their success in beating Philadelphia over the past two years.
7. There has been a lot of talk about Boston not having fun. And it’s true. But plays like this from Tatum get everyone having fun. The entire bench loses their collective minds, and rightly so:
8. One more from Tatum. He’s been a good scorer from day one. He’s been a good defender from day one. He’s improved as a rebounder. But his most improvement has come as a passer. Look at this look-away bounce pass to Daniel Theis in transition for an example:
9. It was a rough shooting night from Smart. But you knew he was going to make a play that helped win the game for Boston. You knew he was going to do that because he always does. This dunk was that play. Also, why is Embiid not challenging this shot? He had five fouls, but there is under 30 seconds to play. You have to challenge this shot.
10. Boston closed the game out with some great team and individual defense. They executed all their switches on the final play, with the idea of keeping the ball away from Redick. And then when it was a two-man game between Embiid and Redick, Tatum locked up Redick and took him away. It was great execution early and stellar individual defense late.