The Boston Celtics have every reason to come out on Thursday night and go scorched-earth mode on the Philadelphia 76ers. Quite frankly, anything less than a ‘gimme your lunch money’ performance could see their season being ended far too soon.
As such, we need to see a top-tier performance from the Celtics so that they can tie their series at 3-3 and force a game 7 in front of their hometown crowd at the TD Garden. Let’s dive into the 3 things to watch out for in game 6.
Both of the Jays, all of the time
At different times throughout Boston’s series against the 76ers, one of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown has gone missing. Be it poor shooting performances, a lack of shot attempts, or simply not being featured within the offense. Yet, if the Celtics are going to stand a chance of making it out of Philadelphia with their season still alive, Joe Mazzulla needs to find ways to keep both of his All-NBA wings involved in the game.
There can’t be a string of possessions where Brown is in the weakside corner, watching on like a spectator. Or where Jayson Tatum is being forced into off-the-dribble threes, which clearly aren’t his bread-and-butter. Instead, we need to see both of these elite talents being featured within the offense, either as an initiator, screener, cutter, or scorer.
There’s no point in having two elite players on the roster if they’re not going to be utilized to their full potential, especially in a win-or-go-home situation. And especially when the 76ers do nothing but feature their top-two guys on offense. Fight fire, with fire,
Can Al Horford bounce back?
In the fourth quarter of game four, Al Horford locked up Joel Embiid so bad he started to question his decision to play basketball, and if he didn’t, he should have. Yet, throughout game 5, Horford couldn’t buy a bucket, especially from the perimeter, and yes, that seriously hindered the Celtics' five-out offensive game plan.
So, now the question is, can Horford bounce back from a poor outing and help keep Embiid under wraps once more? Because, let's face it, Horford is an integral part of the Celtics rotation, and when he plays at a high level, the rest of the roster usually follows suit. I’m not asking for a 20 and 10 night, but rather, an Al Horford performance, you know, where he locks up his man, chips in with timely buckets, blocks shots, and helps box out on the glass.
If Horford can have one of those ‘age-less Al nights’ the Celtics will be in a good spot to snatch a win and keep their series alive. After all, if anyone wants to get another crack at the NBA finals, it’s Horford.
Adjustments: Making them, negating them, and faking them
“Every time that the Celtics think they’ve found or tapped into something, they find a way to counteract it. I think about Harden; ok, in games two and three, Jaylen takes him out…I totally underestimated the potential for the coaching disparity to play itself out in this series. But, especially in the final moments of game four, and it felt like it continued to snowball in this one, Joe just didn’t have any answers for what the Sixers were doing.”
Those were the words of NBC Sports Boston’s Chris Forsberg on Wednesday, May 10, and to be honest, they were a well-articulated version of what most of us were thinking. Yet, we didn’t always feel this way about Joe Mazzulla. In fact, it feels like he’s becoming the scapegoat for issues that have blighted the Celtics for multiple years now. I, too, am guilty of this.
However, Mazzulla does need to step up and be counted, especially in a game of this magnitude. That starts with making some adjustments on both ends of the court and putting his players in a position to succeed. From them, Mazzulla will need to manage the game, both in terms of tempo and in on-the-fly adjustments to counteract whatever Doc Rivers has up his sleeve.
Let’s not forget Rivers isn’t known as an X’s and O’s mastermind, so Mazzulla should be more than up to the challenge of playing the game within the game.
The Celtics need a win in game 6. No. They HAVE to win. Anything less will result in early vacations across the board and millions of disenchanted fans around the globe. The Celtics have owned the Sixers in playoff matchups in recent years, and now is the time to do it again. I have faith. But game 6 on the road, against one your most fierce rivals, is not going to be an easy game to win, regardless of whats on the line.