The Celtics fell just short of the season sweep Wednesday night after giving up a fourth quarter comeback to the Philadelphia 76ers. Everything was going right for the Celtics until the game slowed down a bit, and shots started to fall for Philly. It was the game where the Celtics’ game plan was set up to perfection in the first half, but the Sixers started chipping away at the lead and momentum started to shift. However, no matter the situation against the Sixers, the Celtics always know they can count on Al Horford to be in a situation to get a basket when needed.
Once again, it was put on display as the Celtics turned to Horford when the game tighten up down the stretch. They went after Joel Embiid who just does not have an answer for Horford on the offensive end. He may be the self-proclaimed “most unstoppable player in the league,” but that definitely does not include his isolation defense as seen here.
This play was specifically designed for Horford to set a high screen for Terry Rozier to then have himself isolated against Embiid around the arc. From there, Horford can either take that three-point attempt, or like seen in the clip, take Embiid off the dribble and beat him inside for an easy layup. It was executed to perfection, and it was not the last we saw of it in this game.
Al Horford came to play in this game finishing his night with 22 points, 6 rebounds, and 5 assists. He always gives a bit extra against this match up because he has so much more space to work with. The Sixers main core of big men only know how to stay in and around the paint which is a huge weakness when playing a team such as the Celtics. Players such as Embiid and also trade deadline acquisition Boban Marjanovich struggle when they are tasked to stretch out to the three-point line on the defensive end. This is what Horford thrives on.
Against the Sixers, Brad Stevens and his offensive schemes completely exploit the two major liabilities in the starting roster, J.J. Reddick and Joel Embiid. These two both are a step behind on the defensive end, and Stevens relentlessly attacks this in screen action to confuse the defense.
In regards to Embiid specifically, Stevens designs plays around Embiid having to fight through or switch on screens which already puts him a step behind as we saw in the first clip. His huge frame is just not able to keep up with a smaller lineup being thrown at him. In the first half of this game, Horford had a wide-open path to the basket after a down screen miscommunication by Embiid and Ben Simmons.
While this could be explained as an isolated miscommunication, the problem lies deeper in that Stevens attacked this specific switch trying to have Jayson Tatum guarded by Embiid or Simmons guarding Horford. Either was a mismatch in favor of Boston.
Stevens understands exactly how to go at this Sixers’ defense. It is why they won the first three match ups in this series and probably should have held on for the win Wednesday. Right out of the gate, the game plan was to make them as uncomfortable as possible.
This clip shows the first play of the game where Horford sets a screen, rolls out wide with Simmons running circles to find him, and then creates the Kyrie vs. Embiid isolation. It is a perfectly drawn up and executed play by Stevens and the team. He knows the mismatches and attacks them.
The biggest shame of all, especially for Horford, is that we may not be able to see these two teams play again this season. This game was the last of their season series, and, as the standings look now, the two teams would not meet up again until the Eastern Conference Finals. If that is the case, it could be great news for the Celtics. However, if not, we will have to wait until next year to see these two square off again.
Even as the Sixers got their win tonight, the Celtics still own this Sixers team. One win, at home, doesn’t change the fact that the play calling and execution is at a different level. Brad Stevens and Al Horford both know that they can always get a basket against this Sixers front court.