1. Entering Saturday night, the Celtics had lost all three matchups to the 76ers this season. All three were close, but Philadelphia had been able to pull them out and was showing signs of turning the tide against Boston. So, of course, the shorthanded Celtics hammered the Sixers from the jump and won going away. Let’s take a look at how Boston pulled it off.
2. Just like everyone else in the league, the Celtics are smaller than the 76ers. Before the season when asked how Boston would defend Philadelphia, an NBA scout told CelticsBlog how Brad Stevens would draw up defenses to try and slow the bigger opponent. After that, he added: “And remember, they’ve (76ers) got to defend them (Celtics) too. That’s not an easy ask of their big guys.”
Boston took that to heart as they regularly sought to isolate old friend Al Horford and Joel Embiid against smaller, faster wings. The goal was to make Philly’s big men defend from the arc in. And it worked, as witnessed here with Jayson Tatum beating Horford off the bounce on the switch:
3. Tatum wasn’t the only one to have success, as Jaylen Brown used his athleticism to make it a bad night for Sixers defenders. This was especially true in the second half, when Brown scored 18 of his game-high 32 points. First, it was the rise and fire pullup jumper:
Then Brown dropped the driving jump-hook over Ben Simmons:
A couple of plays later he left Matisse Thybulle looking for his jock:
On the very next trip, Boston ran the same set with a slight wrinkle of having Tatum execute the DHO vs Marcus Smart. Doesn’t change much, as Brown takes the handoff and blows by Thybulle for the and-1 dunk:
And then, with Philadelphia hanging around, Brown put them away with the pullup jumper and drew the foul:
As the kids say: Jaylen Brown was in his bag all game long.
4. Jayson Tatum pitched in with some highlights of his own. You’ve seen this one, but it’s worth sharing again. Tatum breaks down Simmons off the dribble before hammering one right on Horford’s head:
Tatum made the All-Star team as much for his defense as his offense. He measures Shake Milton the whole way here before spiking Milton’s layup off the glass:
It was a miserable night for Joel Embiid and Tatum only added to it in the fourth quarter when he drilled a step-back in Embiid’s face:
5. Why was it a miserable night for Embiid? A big part was Daniel Theis. Theis used his quickness to beat Embiid to his favorite spots all night. He was physical without fouling. And it’s rare that Embiid goes against an opposing center who can move his feet like Theis does. Theis matched minutes to Embiid almost all game and was crucial in holding the All-Star center to just 1-of-11 shooting. We also saw Theis flash his ability to drive bigs early in the game:
6. Boston again got really good minutes from their bench. Semi Ojeleye scored 11 points and grabbed five rebounds. Grant Williams played great defense and was again on the offensive glass, creating three second-chance opportunities and drawing two fouls in the rebounding action. And Brad Wanamaker stepped up big with Kemba Walker out. Wanamaker scored 15 points, including this loud finish on Embiid in transition:
Wanamaker drew a technical foul, but like when Kenny Wu became the third Bash Brother, it was “Well worth it.”:
7. Marcus Smart did a lot of Marcus Smart as per usual. He’s back to being unscreenable, as he gets through two screen attempts by Embiid to hound Milton into a difficult, contested fallaway:
Smart was tricky in transition:
And late in the game, after Horford had scored on him in the post and called him “too small”, Smart had something for his buddy after knocking down a fadeaway over Horford:
8. This play was Boston’s only real miss in communication/execution on defense in the entire game. Wanamaker is calling out for someone to pick up his man, Furkan Korkmaz, in transition, so that he can step up against Simmons. Problem is Ojeleye was already there on Simmons. Williams can’t slide over to Korkmaz, because he’s the only protecting the paint. Wanamaker got caught in no man’s land and Korkmaz got the open triple:
Simmons and Tobias Harris beat defenders for baskets, but that was just good individual offense beating the defense. The above play was the only time it looked like Boston wasn’t in sync. For a game with well over 100 possessions, that’s good stuff.
9. It got to be so much fun for the Celtics, that everyone was treated to Tacko Time:
Beyond being fun, this play shows development from Tacko Fall. He catches the lob in traffic. Then he keeps the ball high and away from swiping arms, before patiently knocking down the jump-hook. Slowly but surely, things are coming together for Fall.
10. The Celtics have now won three straight games. They’ve got a chance to keep that going with three winnable games in a row: at the Atlanta Hawks, before coming back to Boston to play the Orlando Magic and the Hawks again.
It’s important to get wins in at least two of those three games, as the three games in the week before the All-Star break are tough ones: at the Houston Rockets, at the Oklahoma City Thunder and home the night before the break against the Los Angeles Clippers.
The Celtics have proven they can beat anyone, but they’ve also got some bad losses on their ledger too. This week is a good week to clean that up and stock some wins in the race for homecourt advantage in the playoffs.