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Stars lead the way to Game 1 victory: 10 Takeaways from Celtics/76ers

Tatum, Brown and Walker combined for 80 points in Boston’s win

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics - Game One Photo by Ashley Landis - Pool/Getty Images

1. The Celtics won Game 1 to take a 1-0 series lead, but there wasn’t much celebrating after. Of primary concern is Gordon Hayward’s status. Late in the game, Hayward landed on Daniel Theis’ foot and rolled his right ankle pretty severely. He was able to limp, but reports are that Hayward was scheduled for an MRI on Monday night. Brad Stevens said post-game that Hayward was “in a lot of pain and there was some swelling already.”

The other concern for Boston was that they had built an 11-point lead in the third quarter and it looked like Philadelphia was poised to fold. Unfortunately, the Celtics couldn’t keep up the momentum and the 76ers clawed back in the game. Stevens owned after the game that it’s “something we need to be better at. All of us, myself included, need be better at putting teams away when we get them down.”

2. Part of the Celtics hopes for a deep playoff run rely on Kemba Walker and his fit in the offense alongside Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Walker realizes Boston is only going as far as the two burgeoning stars will take them. He said after the game “Every big moment, they made big plays. When we needed a big play, they made it. It’s fun to watch. It’s really fun to be a part of their growth.”

It’s a small and easy-to-miss thing, but this was Boston’s first basket of the game. The Celtics use Daniel Theis to distribute on DHO (dribble hand-off) plays a lot. It looks like that’s what they are setting up here. Instead, the smallest player on the floor sets a screen to free up Tatum for the jumper:

This clip has a really great angle to see how important spacing is (we’ll touch on the lack of for Philadelphia later!) when you want to run plays. Just as Walker and Theis go into pick-and-roll, watch Jaylen Brown leave the strongside corner. That takes Al Horford out of the play as a help defender. Because Joel Embiid drops so low, he has to respect Walker in the paint, which opens up Theis for the dunk:

3. Multiple Celtics fans on Twitter, and some unbiased watchers as well, were wondering why the Sixers weren’t getting called for Defensive 3 Seconds more. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, is the concept of “2-9ing” (for 2.9 seconds). The defender, usually Joel Embiid or Al Horford in this case, will sit in the middle of the paint. If they tag (touch) a cutter, the count resets. Both Embiid and Horford were doing this regularly. It’s a concept Brook Lopez of the Milwaukee Bucks has mastered.

The second way Embiid and Horford were living in the paint was by not respecting any Boston big with the ball outside of the lane. The defender guarding the man with the ball can’t be called for Defensive 3 Seconds. So, when Daniel Theis would catch and hold the ball at the arc while waiting for a play to open up, Embiid would sit in the lane for as long as he could.

How does Boston counter? They need to speed up their actions. Or Theis needs to be more willing to shoot. And, the Celtics can position their bigs closer to the basket more, like they do when Enes Kanter and Robert Williams are in the game.

4. The above is different than Philadelphia playing drop coverage with Embiid. That usually comes when Embiid is involved in defending the primary action. It’s something the 76ers do to protect the rim, while allowing Embiid to conserve some energy and avoid fouls by not defending out at the arc. Here’s a few ways Boston attacked the drop.

First is the basic pull-up. Walker comes off the screen from Theis, Embiid is way back and Walker pulls up:

Same concept here, but using Brown as the roll-man into the pull-up against Horford. Also, check out Theis spaced to the corner. Brown has lots of options if Horford cheats up:

This last one isn’t exactly drop coverage, but it’s taking advantage of Embiid hanging at the rim. The whole play design is good, as Hayward and Tatum cross-screen for each other, while Theis cuts behind it. That keeps Embiid home. Tatum turns to screen for Brad Wanamaker. Matisse Thybulle is worried about Tatum popping out, so he top-locks the screen. With Embiid at home on Theis and Thybulle unable to help, Wanamaker dribbles into the easy floater:

5. On the other end of the floor, the Celtics rolled with their three-big rotation. Daniel Theis started and was backed up by Enes Kanter and Robert Williams. Kanter played only against Joel Embiid, while Williams drew a lot of the minutes against Al Horford.

Despite going just 1-for-5 from three, Theis had his normal solid game. He did his thing as a screener, with the “Theis seal” showing up several times. Kanter’s and Williams’ minutes were more mixed.

Williams committed some silly fouls, but he also made plays no other Celtics big can make. Old-school coaches rejoiced as Williams followed his shot here:

Kanter got off to a horrible start with a couple of missed layups. But he showed up in the second half. He’s the best offensive rebounder the Celtics have had in decades. This play was Kanter outworking Embiid and wanting the ball more to get Boston a huge extra possession:

On the other end, Kanter can be abused in pick-and-roll, but the Sixers rarely run that action. On straight post-ups, Kanter is tough. He straightens up Embiid in the post, then turns and boxes as Tatum challenges the hook shot:

6. A big part of Boston’s defense against Embiid and Horford is to double team when they put the ball on the floor. No one executed this better than Marcus Smart. Here, Smart waits until Horford turns baseline and then he comes:

By the end of the game, it was like the JAWS music was playing when the Sixers bigs posted up. Smart was lurking, but they never knew from where or when he was coming.

Part of what allowed Boston to double so easily was Philadelphia’s poor spacing. They never really cleared out for Embiid or Horford to work in the post. Look for an adjustment there before Game 2.

7. While Kemba Walker understands his role is to complement Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, he’s also an accomplished scorer himself. We already showed you Walker attacking the drop with the pull-up. He was going to do the same here, but felt Josh Richardson climb over the screen from Enes Kanter. Walker and Kanter re-screen and this time Walker gets downhill for the and-1 against Joel Embiid:

8. It was kind of a quiet night for Marcus Smart with flashy, noticeable plays. But this look-away pass on the break was beautiful:

9. We talk a lot about Jaylen Brown’s improved handle and patience in this space. Here’s a great example of both. Brown keeps his head up as he drives, hangs and fires a bullet to Gordon Hayward for a triple:

It used to be that Brown would almost always make the rim run in transition. On this play, he sees Hayward already has that covered. Brown instead runs to the wing, where he buries the huge triple:

10. Jayson Tatum set a playoff career-high with 32 points. As good as Tatum was on offense, and he was great, he may have been even better on defense. He had three blocks, including this one to set up Brown’s three from above:

Tatum also cleaned the glass, with a team-high 13 rebounds. This one in traffic shows Tatum’s improved strength to bang in traffic, and his incredible length to collect the ball:

Game 2 is Wednesday at 6:30 PM ET on TNT.

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