1. Perspective is really important in all phases of life, but we only care about keeping it in mind when it comes to the Celtics. Did Boston lose to Philadelphia? Yes. Did the Celtics play without Jayson Tatum? Also, yes.
The 76ers were without Seth Curry, who has been important to them, but he’s not Tatum. Boston is really close to getting whole, as is Philly. That may come as soon as Friday’s rematch. If so, we’ll have a much better sense of how these two Eastern Conference contenders stack up then.
2. Kemba Walker is back and looks really good. In his first game back, Walker showed quickness and burst that was missing in the bubble, but his timing was way off. This game, he looked more in rhythm. Postgame Walker said he knows he is feeling good because of his pullups: “Most importantly is my pullups. I couldn’t get to them before. I can get to them and that’s how I know I’m feeling better.”
Walker showed that off to open the game. Joel Embiid drops, as he often does, and Walker doesn’t hesitate to pull up for the three-pointer:
Also, it was good to see Walker’s burst again. Here he draws Dwight Howard on a switch and gets right to the rim:
3. Another good thing to see back for Boston with Walker’s return is his chemistry with Daniel Theis. The two worked well together last year and they’ve seemingly picked up where they left off. Walker used Theis as a screener several times for baskets. When the Sixers picked that up, Walker started diming up Theis. On this play, Theis is out of the initial action, but he knows when and where to move as Walker drives. The result is an easy dunk:
Theis comes up with a steal to start this play and busts it down court. Walker gets it in transition and drives before seeing Theis all alone at the rim for the alley-oop:
Don’t be surprised if this good chemistry ultimately results in Theis sliding back into the starting lineup at the five. More big games like Theis had on Wednesday night, will make that decision an easy one.
4. The elephant in the room for Boston since they lost Al Horford is: How do they defend Joel Embiid? Last year it was a combination of double-teams and letting Embiid get his while shutting down everyone else. The Celtics have also long felt that Embiid will tire himself out by the fourth quarter.
This season, Embiid has dedicated himself to getting in shape. That’s allowed him to play well deeper into games. For Boston, this becomes a challenge. While other 76ers had good games, Embiid was the reason they won.
As Brad Stevens said: “We have to defend him without fouling.” Embiid took 21 free throws, which was more than the entire Celtics team. The Sixers will always take more free throws than Boston, because they play predominantly inside, while the Celtics take a lot of jumpers. But this was an extreme case of Embiid drawing touch fouls with flailing exaggerations, combined with Boston letting him get too good of position with no choice but to foul.
Kemba Walker said postgame that the guards need to help because “It’s not a one-man job to guard Embiid”. Daniel Theis added “We need to do a better job keeping him from getting the ball in the first place.”
Look for some sort of subtle adjustment to how Boston defends Embiid on Friday.
5. With Jayson Tatum sidelined, Jaylen Brown has continued his excellent play. Long two-pointers aren’t great shots…unless you make them. And Brown is drilling them at such a high rate, that this is a perfectly good shot:
This is Brown getting deep into his bag of tricks:
Brown’s also using his improved handle to get to his spots easier. This floater is a great shot because of how easily Brown gets to it:
With Walker back and Tatum returning soon, Boston has three guys who can get a bucket. Tatum and Brown’s increased confidence will only help, as they know they are counted on more than ever. Look for Brad Stevens to make sure that one of the three is almost always on the court moving forward.
6. Boston cleaned it up as the game went along, but Philadelphia grabbed 11 offensive rebounds. That led to 14 second-chance points. That’s a big difference in a close game. Before we overreact, let’s see how it looks when Tatum is back. He’s been a big part of the rebounding game in the past.
If it continues to be a problem, this will be something that Danny Ainge may need to address. The Celtics are too good of a defensive team to let stops go by the wayside because they can’t finish the possession with the rebound. With the Gordon Hayward trade exception sitting there, Boston may be forced to use it to get a rebounder, if they can’t figure it out with current personnel.
7. Javonte Green got a lot of minutes in this game, mostly because his defense was really good. He helped get Boston going after a bit of drought in the first half. His energy is always at 100, as seen here with this steal and dunk:
Unfortunately, Green’s inconsistent playing time may contribute to lapses in communication. We aren’t going to pin this all on Green, but someone doesn’t know what the coverage is here. It looks like some Celtics think it’s a zone, while others playing more like it’s a sliding man-to-man defense. Either way, this is a bad breakdown at a crucial point in the game:
8. 16 more turnovers for the Celtics, as they continue to struggle in that area of the game. Right now, Boston’s offensive rating is 12th in the NBA, but just a point or two off the top-five. The difference between many of those teams and the Celtics is turnover percentage. If Boston can just clean up their ballhandling, the offense will certainly finish well inside the top-10.
9. Marcus Smart kept Boston afloat for periods of the game. This was his best offensive performance of the season thus far. Smart scored on a nice mix of jumpers and drives. He was under control and took good shots for the most part. This drive against Joel Embiid was great because Smart uses the rim at the end to protect against Embiid blocking his shot:
10. Brad Stevens has some of the best BLOB (baseline out of bounds) and SLOB (sideline out of bounds) plays in the game. This is one the Celtics ran with Isaiah Thomas a lot. He would inbound and cut off the big like it’s a short shot, but the play design is for him to draw the defense and dump it off. This was also used with Kyrie Irving several times too. Here, it’s Marcus Smart finding Daniel Theis for the easy one: