1. As Brad Stevens said postgame, this was a more encouraging loss than the previous two for Boston. That being said, a loss is still a loss. The Celtics should be long-past encouraging losses at this point. Losing a game to Washington when it’s an off shooting night? No big deal. Every team has losses like that. Playing poorly against San Antonio? Concerning because the effort wasn’t there. Losing to Philadelphia without Joel Embiid, but playing with good effort? Better, but still a loss. And now the 76ers own the season tie-breaker too.
This has been the worst week of the season for the Celtics so far. As long as it doesn’t become a five or six-game losing streak or something like losses in 8-of-10 games, it’s not the end of the world. But avoiding the kind of spiral that plagued last season is important to keep from the “Here we go again” mindset from creeping in.
2. So much for slow starts. The Celtics came out with all cylinders firing. Kemba Walker in particular was hot as he carved up Philly’s drop coverages. More than maybe anything, the level of effort and execution from the start was the most encouraging part of the game.
3. Mentioned above was Kemba Walker beating Philadelphia out of pick and roll. Al Horford is a great defender (Yes, still.), but he can’t press up on Walker or he’s getting blown by. Drop off, and Walker kills you with pull-up jumpers like this:
4. Jayson Tatum struggled with his shot, as he was just 4-of-13 from the field. But, once again, Tatum showed up in other ways. Let’s start with his defense. He played with great effort and made a bunch of plays all game. His timing to go for steals was particularly impressive. On this play, Tatum uses both his length and quickness. He helps on Simmons inside, then uses his long arms to steal the kick-out pass:
The very next trip, Boston executes the jump-switch perfectly and Tatum comes up with another steal. Walker has Ben Simmons, but Boston scrambles him out with Tatum coming off Al Horford on the opposite block. Jaylen Brown slides way to take Horford, while Walker jumps across the lane to get out to James Ennis:
When Boston’s defense is connected, this is the kind of play they make on defense with regularity.
Tatum also showed up as a passer. Here he snags the steal, turns with his head up and hits the streaking Gordon Hayward for a layup:
Late in the game, Tatum found Hayward once again with a nice bounce pass in traffic in transition:
Tatum’s primary value to Boston is as a scorer. That’s not going to change. But being able to make plays when the shot won’t fall is nice to fall back on.
5. With Joel Embiid injured, Ben Simmons functioned as the 76ers backup center for several minutes behind Al Horford. Boston took advantage of that a couple of times with Enes Kanter post-up plays like this:
Unfortunately, the Celtics went away from Kanter as the game went along. This was a game where Kanter should have gotten more than seven shots.
6. While the effort was better, some of the laissez faire stuff was still present. This pass from Walker just isn’t good enough. It’s a two-bounce pass across the top of the key to Hayward. Hayward also doesn’t give enough effort to get it, as he simply waits for the ball instead of stepping to it. This is the sort of lazy stuff that costs you in close games against good teams.
7. The Celtics interior defense was brutal in the second half. And this was in a game where Embiid was out! Horford scored with ease inside, as did several Sixers on drives. Overall, Philadelphia outscored Boston 20-2 on points in the paints in the third quarter on their way to a 12-point advantage for the game.
8. This play was one of the final vestiges of the good ball movement the Celtics had on the night. Multiple passes and the ball hits the paint. The 76ers do a great job of initially closing out to shooters, but eventually they break and Walker gets a wide-open triple:
9. Unfortunately, the play above was one of the last times Boston moved the ball like this. At both the start of the third quarter, and down the stretch, the Celtics devolved into 1-on-1 ball. Multiple trips featured one or no passes. Everyone from Walker to Tatum to Brown to Hayward to Smart tried to do it themselves. Both Walker and Smart had it going, so you could excuse them for a couple of heat-checks here and there. But everyone else was struggling. It was the sort of “your turn, my turn” stuff that makes people question if Boston has too many guys who need the ball.
The solution? Keep the ball moving and popping. It keeps everyone involved. Running one action off a screen or DHO and taking a shot isn’t good enough. At least not for the long stretches we saw on Thursday night.
10. It was a forgettable game from Jaylen Brown. He was just 2-of-12 from the field with three turnovers. That’s a third tough one in a row, as Brown has shot a combined 14-of-48 from the field over the last three contests. Shooting slumps happen, but it does make one question: Is this a slump or a regression to the mean for Brown?
No matter what it is, Brown can’t lose confidence as he seemed to do here in the middle of the fourth quarter:
Only Furkan Korkmaz stands between Brown and the rim. But he’s already 2-for-12 for the game and missed a layup on the previous trip. Brown’s not even trying again and kicks to Semi Ojeleye in the corner for a rushed three-point attempt. Ojeleye missed, Korkmaz buried a triple on the other end. That’s at least a 5-point swing. Brown’s been too good, and too important to Boston’s success, this season to let a bad shooting night keep him from attacking in transition.