What did we learn from the 1st round? (the Sixers completed an easy sweep while the Celtics struggled to put away the Hawks) What do we take from that to apply to the 2nd round?
We learned that coaching really matters this time of year. Jacque Vaughn was a bit out of his depth against Embiid and it led to a sweep whereas Quin Snyder came up with some very interesting defensive solutions to help Atlanta win a couple games. Doc vs. Joe should be fascinating, a real test for the rookie coach against a talented Philly team that has a real chance of winning the series. I highly doubt a sweep is coming on either side, so seeing how both coaches adjust after wins/losses will ultimately decide this series.
There are definitely some red flags for the Celtics. Offensive rebounding hurt them a lot, they lacked the energy you wanted to see, and the defense struggled to keep up with Trae Young. But they’ve always played Philadelphia well. And while the 76ers did complete a sweep, they were facing an offense that probably would have ranked in the bottom five throughout the course of a full season. The Nets averaged 92.5 points per game. In 2023. So, while the Celtics have their fair share of problems, their offense is worlds better than Brooklyn’s, which could be a shock to Philly. But for the Celtics, they key element is the same as it was heading into the first round. Play the right way, and you win. Play lazy, and you probably lose.
The Hawks really challenged the Celtics’ pick-and-roll coverages with two of the best mid-range scoring guards in the league in Trae Young and Dejounte Murray. Still, Boston’s drop coverage and switches, when executed effectively, helped them win the series. It’s going to be a lot harder against the 76ers. Embiid and Harden are happy to shoot in the mid-range and both will make you pay for lapses. How much do their pick-and-rolls bend the defense, freeing up other shooters, and what shots will the Celtics live with?
We learned that the Celtics are who we thought they were. When they play the right way - with great pace, energy, physicality, and unselfishness, they look like the best, most talented team in the NBA. When they lack focus, do not commit to defending with physicality, and settle for bad shots, they struggle. One would think that Philadelphia (a traditional rival and consensus contender with the likely MVP) will have their full attention. If the Celtics play to their potential, they match up quite well with the 76ers. But if the Celtics drop a game or two due to self-inflicted sounds (see: Game 5 vs. Atlanta), the 76ers are more than talented enough to take advantage of those mistakes and steal the series.
In the words of opposing coach — and old friend — Doc Rivers: the Celtics can’t play with their meat. The Hawks played the Celtics tough, but it’s hard to justify that first round series going six games. This team has as much talent as any in the NBA — if not more — but they’re remarkably prone to taking their foot off the gas when they feel they have the advantage. Unlike the Hawks, these Sixers are not a team you can pull that against and live to tell the tale. We need to see more complete efforts from the Celtics in this series, or the Eastern Conference Finals could be in jeopardy. (edited)
The lesson is the same as always: Don’t take anything for granted. The Celtics won three of four meetings with the Sixers and finished three games ahead in the standings. Historically, Philadelphia hasn’t won a playoff series versus Boston since 1982 (the Celtics beat them in five series since then). The Tatum/Brown Celtics took down the Embiid Sixers 4-1 in 2018 and 4-0 in 2020. None of that matters now. With the Bucks eliminated, the Celtics have a wide open opportunity to return to the Finals. They must bring the intensity to every game against Philly (and beyond) or they’ll seriously regret the consequences.
I think the biggest takeaway from the series with Atlanta is the Celtics can’t take their foot off the gas. It’s not exactly a new issue for Boston, but the Hawks series was a reminder, and a good one at that. Having the Celtics be tested in the first round is not a bad thing, especially if the end goal is bringing home banner 18. For Philadelphia, I don’t think the Nets were much of a challenge, but they’ll now have to go against Boston, a team that has historically had their number and Joel Embiid has a 1-8 playoff record against. Philly’s MVP Frontrunner is playing on an LCL sprain, the severity of which hasn’t been released. Whether Embiid plays or not game one, the Celtics need to show up ready to play.
Cheers for the guys for nailing the lesson that I had in my head when I asked this question. I would love to feel emboldened by the Bucks being eliminated and Embiid having questions about his health, but I just can’t get there. Why? Because the lesson I learned in the first round (and really the whole regular season) is that you can take nothing for granted with this team. Anyone can beat anyone and nothing is guaranteed. Especially when the Celtics think they have the other team where they want them. Here’s hoping they learned that lesson well and take every game seriously and attack from the start. I’ll believe it when I see it though.
The importance of the little things. Quin Snyder did a great job trying to exploit those margins of the game, rebounding, turnovers and free throw shooting, to bridge the gap between Boston and Atlanta. That led to a 37 shot advantage for the Hawks in the series, something that did not please Joe Mazzulla, but the Celtics managed to win the rebounding battle, tie the turnover contest and came within three free throws of the Hawks. The last of those three will play a large role in the Sixers series, Philadelphia led the league with a 30% free throw rate, and if Joel Embiid misses time, Paul Reed proved an adept rebounder. The biggest lesson likely stems from Game 5 though, with Dejounte Murray missing, the Celtics relaxed late and cost themselves what nearly became a critical loss on the way to a Game 7.