This is it. This is what we’ve been missing for so many months. This feeling of playoff intensity. This matchup which has modern day intrigue as well as echoes of narratives from ages past. Oh how we missed this kind of energy.
There were so many little stories within this book.
First there was Joel Embiid eating early and often. It was the sum of all our fears, ...for a while. He blasted off for 11 early points but his team couldn’t capitalize (largely due to turnovers). He finished with a team high 28 points but looked absolutely out of gas by the end. The Celtics threw a lot of bodies at him and a lot of different looks. It didn’t always work, but it was enough to wear him down. Hopefully that trend continues.
The next storyline was Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown trading scoring runs like Legolas and Gimli counting orc kills. This is the realization of the promise that was hinted at in the 2018 payoffs. If you had told me then that this would be where those two are at in their careers, it wouldn’t have shocked me in the least. We just had to get through the 2018-19 season before we could get here. Ironically enough, all this is happening against their old teammate from that year in Al Horford.
Speaking of which, we saw a little of that old Al Horford (and yes, a little of just old Al Horford). At times he looked stout, like when he stymied Gordon Hayward on a drive attempt or when he punished smaller defenders in the post. Other times he was just a step too slow to close out on the perimeter or stay in front of the quicker Celtics wings. My heart wants to say that he contributed more than he didn’t (7 rebounds, 6 assists, 1 block) but he was also a negative 18 in plus-minus (flawed stat disclaimer).
The most worrisome story has to be the Gordon Hayward sprained ankle. Any time Gordon walks with a limp it gives Celtics a nervous tic. But losing him for an early playoff stretch would be problematic at best. (Update: it is problematic at best) The team can get by without him for a while (with more pressure on Tatum, Brown, and Kemba), but he’s an extremely valuable piece of this puzzle, mostly due to the lack of depth on the bench.
Last but not least is the storyline of playoff runs. The Celtics rode a hot Tatum hand to a double digit lead. Then the Sixers roared back with a 13-0 run of their own to take the lead. The Celtics got the last laugh this time but not before Philly got a few more shots in. There were even a few moments where things started to get chippy. This is what playoff basketball is all about. There are no cupcake games. No tanking lottery teams. No scheduling losses where you don’t get a team’s A game. Every game could be the difference between advancing and heading home. All that taking place in the Orlando bubble is just another layer to the narrative.
Those are the stories that stood out to me, but there are hundreds more in the games within the game (and of course we’ll cover most of them right here on CelticsBlog). And that was just one game! Buckle up, this could be a fun postseason.