Whether or not the Sixers ultimately win this series, the Celtics’ approach is giving us a great look at some of the questions that need to be answered before a young team can turn the corner.
Defensively, can Joel Embiid stay with a veteran stretch-five like Al Horford? Who guards Jayson Tatum?
Offensively, how does Ben Simmons adjust to a game plan that limited him to a single point in game two?
When you watch Boston defend Simmons, they’re doing a beautiful job of walling him off in areas of the floor where he doesn’t excel. Picking up him near the foul line means that he’s too shallow to kick the ball out effectively while still being pushed outside of his limited shooting range.
“I think there’s some truth to that,” said head coach Brett Brown after Friday’s practice. “What they are doing is taking what the league did all year, but just doing it really well. They’re just really doing it well. They’re a disciplined team. I’ve said – and I guess I’ll say it until the Boston Celtics with us are no more – they have individual pieces that are exceptional. They really have individual pieces that are exceptional. Then you take another defender, and you take a good scheme, it’s sort of a shell, a full court shell in coach speak, that we refer to, and they just do it really well. And so he’s seeing a wall. Early in LeBron’s days, that was all he saw. You’re gonna live with a pull-up, not a layup. You’re gonna see five jerseys and five sets of numbers. I think the Celtics are doing a really good job in that regard.”
Simmons echoed those sentiments when asked about Boston’s game plan.
“(They’re) just loading the paint, which means somebody’s gotta be open,” the rookie point guard explained. “We gotta move the ball quicker. It’s just coming to jump stops and getting to the rim, being strong and finishing through contact.”
It often looks like this, with a box, or in this case, a shoddy Microsoft paint rhombus, drawn around Simmons when he hits the key or slot:
Not much room to maneuver, right?
T.J. McConnell, who came in and played quality minutes in game two, provided a third, similar viewpoint.
“I think they’re just trying to build a wall around him,” McConnell said. “He’s one of the most gifted athletes in our league in getting to the rim in the open floor. They’ve done a good job kind of building that wall around him. But Ben is going to adjust. He always has and I’m looking forward to seeing him play well.”
Tell ya what, since last night and this morning was a tour de force of Negadelphia, let’s take a look at some positive plays that Ben pulled off in game two.
But first, I want you to look at two charts to get a better idea of how Brad Stevens has his players matching up on him.
I went over to NBA.com’s wonderful advanced stats section and took a look at the data from games one and two, chopping out some of the lesser parameters from the charts (3P shooting, helped blocked shots, some stuff that didn’t register).
Here’s how the Celtics defended Simmons in game one:
Horford had Simmons on 21.7% of matchups, holding him to 3 points on 1-3 shooting and 1 assist. The Sixers scored 27 of their 101 points from possessions where Horford defended Ben.
Here’s how it played out in game two:
You see Horford had Simmons for 44.3% of the time, a 20% increase from game one. Ben was 0-2 from the floor with 4 assists and 3 turnovers in those matchups.
Combined, this is the stat line for Simmons vs. Horford in the series:
45 possessions, 4 points, 5 assists, 4 turnovers, 1-5 shooting
So you get the idea. Horford has been very good at sliding with Simmons at higher defensive pick up points, while also being big enough and strong enough to not get out-muscled. Marcus Morris will come in as a power forward and Horford will slide over to the five and guard Amir Johnson when Joel Embiid and Aron Baynes are out of the game.
Taking that into account, I thought this was one of the nicest sequences of the night:
Dump it off to the trailer, off-ball screen, backdoor cut.
It starts with the look I’ve been describing, with two guys meeting Simmons in transition, but in this case he sees it right away and just swings the ball to Saric at the point:
From that pass, he moves to down screen and Belinelli goes backdoor instead for a layup.
It’s similar here, where Simmons dumps it off early to the trailing player, they run dribble hand-off on the other side of the floor, and get Belinelli on a DHO curl after a nice screen from Amir:
Again, early recognition from Simmons moves the ball to the other side of the court and they get movement from the shooting guard:
You see there a couple of instances where Ben releases the ball early instead of getting walled with nowhere to go. There have been too many times where he’s tried to drive 1v2 into that cluster and come out worse for wear.
Ironically, sometimes he’s still athletic enough to do something when that happens, like this play here:
Most guys aren’t hitting the paint, jumping in the air, doing a 180, and then kicking out to an open man. Simmons is one of the few who can pull it off.
So you see the negatives, but we’ve diagnosed the issue and there are enough positives to build off of.
I’m going glass half full on a Friday afternoon. The weather is too nice for more bitching and whining.