1. Brad Stevens likes to say “It’s about the next play.” Boston lived that in Game 2. After a rough start, the Celtics weathered the storm and got back to being themselves. Once they were out of their own heads, Boston went on to a 42-point turnaround, as they turned a 14-point deficit into a lead of as big as 28 points.
Part of Boston’s issues early showed the fears of not having Gordon Hayward. Marcus Smart isn’t the same weapon and Philadelphia tilted their defense away from him. In addition, Daniel Theis remains reluctant to take wide-open shots. When Hayward is there and Theis passes up looks early in the clock, the Celtics can play around it. With Hayward out and the spacing a little more confined, it’s harder to get good looks late-clock.
While Boston rolled in Game 2, look for Brad Stevens to make some sort of adjustment with Theis’ role moving forward. It’ll carry over to future series as well, assuming Boston advances, because the Celtics are likely to see similar defense from Toronto and Milwaukee.
2. Following the game, Joel Embiid questioned his defensive role of dropping back to the rim against pick-and-roll. It’s fair, because the Celtics burned it all game long in Game 1 and it was more of the same in Game 2.
On this play, the Celtics get to the drop in a bit of a different way. One issue with living off pull-ups is Philadelphia has some players who are good at contesting them from behind, like Shake Milton, Josh Richardson and Matisse Thybulle. Here, Embiid is already at the rim, but the play starts with Kemba Walker screening for Marcus Smart. That forces Milton to pick up Smart and leaves Tobias Harris (not good at the rear-contest) to guard Walker. From there it’s a simple hand-off for the pull-up from Walker:
If Embiid is going to lay a mile off, especially late in the clock, Boston’s bigs have to take open jumpers. Yes, even Enes Kanter:
This is actually a zone defense from Philadelphia, but as far as Embiid is concerned, it’s still drop coverage. Grant Williams screens for Jayson Tatum, which opens him up just enough for a three-point jumper that might as well be a layup right now for Tatum:
3. Joel Embiid was again a monster. But once again he did most of his damage early in the game. In CelticsBlog’s series preview, we wrote “Embiid might average 45 points in this series, but 40 of them might come in the first three quarters.” That’s proving to be prophetic. Embiid scored 30 of his 34 points in the first three quarters, and for the second straight game looked gassed by the time the fourth quarter rolled around.
4. On the flip side, Jayson Tatum has had it rolling for two straight games in totality. After setting a playoff career-high with 32 points in Game 1, Tatum broke it with 33 points in Game 2. When Tatum feels like this, it doesn’t matter who you put on him. He’s going to torch defenses with his step-back, side-step triple:
Brad Stevens also worked a bit of an in-game coaching clinic with how he freed up Tatum for shots. Late in the game, in an attempt to rally, Philadelphia went to a pressing, trapping defense. Stevens had Tatum bring the ball up. Tatum would pitch it to a ballhandler after getting the ball over halfcourt. Brad Wanamaker drives, forces help and kicks to Grant Williams. As the defender rotates to Williams, he reverses the ball to the now trailing Tatum for a wide-open three:
5. When Gordon Hayward was out with a fractured hand earlier this season, Stevens used Tatum plus four bench players a lot. He went back to that alignment in this game and it turned the double-digit deficit into a double-digit lead. And then when Tatum needed a break, Stevens went to Jaylen Brown or Kemba Walker with the bench. It worked because the bench stepped up big time around the stars.
6. Boston’s bench vets stepped up, as did their kids. On this play, Brad Wanamaker shows he can dribble into a pull-up against the drop coverage just as easily as his more-talented teammates. Watch all the way to the end of the clip too. Look how excited Tatum is for Wanamaker:
7. Enes Kanter was also terrific. Kanter isn’t going to shut down Joel Embiid, but he can make his life difficult by banging on him all game. And when Embiid is worn out, Kanter can make plays like this one, with the offensive rebound for the easy putback:
8. Two rookies came up big for Boston as well, as Romeo Langford and Grant Williams were good off the bench. Langford made plays simply by being active. His defense is miles better than anyone thought it would be as a rookie. Offensively, Langford remains a work in progress, but Stevens regularly praises his work as a driver and cutter.
Williams was the first big off the bench for the Celtics and he delivered. With Daniel Theis oddly tentative against the dropping bigs, it was nice to see Williams let it fly with confidence:
9. No other guard in the NBA can make the sequence of plays Marcus Smart makes here. He leaves Shake Milton to block Tobias Harris at the rim. Harris recovers the ball and kicks to Milton for what should be an open three-pointer. Yet, Smart teleports back to Milton for the close-out:
Smart said between Games 1 and 2 “I need to be the defensive pest that I am. I need to be the best defensive player in the NBA…that I am.” Plays like this back up that confidence.
And we all know Smart makes Smart plays. In transition, following a turnover, Smart catches Joel Embiid in his feelings. He sees the big man jogging back with his head down. Smart takes it right at him and catches him off-guard for the and-1:
10. Kemba Walker didn’t stay in his feelings after a tough play and it led to the highlight of all highlights from this one. Right before this clip starts, Embiid pinned Walker’s layup on the backboard and sent him spilling to the floor. As Philadelphia went the other way in transition, look at Walker sprint back to strip Embiid for the steal. That steal led to this:
Stevens’ messaging about moving on to the next play has sunk in for his team. Nothing embodies that more than the last two clips and it’s a big reason Boston is up 2-0 in the series.
Game 3 is Friday at 6:30 PM ET on TNT.