“That’s Not Who We Are” – Observations from Celtics 117, Sixers 101

Photo Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Social media was exhausting after last night’s game, just a comprehensive agglomeration of knee-jerk Philadelphia fan reaction –

“Fire Brett Brown”

“This player sucks”

“That player sucks”

“Bryan Colangelo sucks”

And one Crossing Broad contributor – he who shall not be named – arose from his weeks-long slumber to spam us with a CliffsNotes amalgam of those four hot takes, starting in the first quarter and continuing through Tuesday morning. This person – he who shall not be named – was conspicuously absent when the Sixers were busy winning 20 out of their last 21 games.

The more pragmatic take is this: they lost a basketball game. Remember how they lost a basketball game at home to Miami in the last round? They adjusted and figured it out, won three in a row, and advanced.

That’s the positive here– the number of outliers we saw last night. The Sixers probably won’t shoot 19% from three for the rest of the series. They probably won’t get another 17-point bench effort, and they’ll knock off the rust after going six days without action. Boston is unlikely to get 70% combined shooting from Al Horford and Terry Rozier in game two, and I don’t think Aron Baynes is gonna sink multiple three-pointers.

We’ll learn a lot about Brett Brown on Thursday, a coach who now has the luxury of 48 hours to break down the film, diagnose the issues, and rejigger the game plan.


Matchups and defense

Missing open shots is one thing, but the Sixers’ defense and overall effort was disappointing last night.

Joel Embiid said it himself:

“It starts on defense. I thought I was shitty. I thought we were all bad tonight. That’s not who we are, definitely. I think when everybody’s on, we’re the best defensive team in the game. There’s a lot of stuff that we game-planned that we didn’t execute.”

Brown’s message was similar: “I think to look at this game, defensively, offensively, this isn’t who we are.”

The biggest defensive problem was that the coverages and execution were poor, and Boston surgically created and identified mismatches throughout the game.

For starters, the Sixers are going to have to keep JJ Redick and Marco Belinelli off of Jayson Tatum, because the size and athleticism gulf is expansive.

Theoretically, you can attack him at the perimeter and force him to drive, but then you get plays like this:

The complication here is that Horford is a guy who can actually shoot the ball, so Embiid has to respect him being out there at the three-point line in lieu of just sagging. The other three players are spaced out on the opposite end of the floor, allowing Tatum and Horford to play that two-man game in the first place. This isn’t Miami, who only had one big man who could actually shoot the ball.

On this play, Belinelli is assigned to Tatum, and gets cooked off a simple dribble-hand off coming from an inbound pass:

I think Simmons on Shane Larkin there is a total waste. You’ve got Robert Covington on the floor as well, but Belinelli is guarding Tatum?

Boston went with this starting lineup in Jaylen Brown’s absence, with the Sixers’ primary defender in parentheses:

  1. Terry Rozier (Covington)
  2. Marcus Smart (Simmons)
  3. Jayson Tatum (Redick)
  4. Al Horford (Saric)
  5. Aron Baynes (Embiid)

Covington took Rozier and Simmons guarded Smart. I think you’re just going to have to put one of Covington or Simmons on Tatum and let the other switch with Redick to deal with Rozier and Brown/Smart in the back court. Of course that leaves one of Embiid and Saric to deal with Horford and Baynes. Embiid is the better defender, but putting him on Horford gives Baynes a rebounding advantage underneath. Big deal? Probably not.

You’ve just got to identify the weakness that you’re most willing to live with, since you can’t clamp down on everyone and everything. It starts with Tatum and goes from there.

Larkin driving to the rim? Fine. Smart shooting 20 footers? Fine. Baynes shooting 24 footers? That’s fine, too. If one of those guys goes off, so be it, or if they get some points in the paint, whatever, but you have to adjust the game plan to limit the mismatches and easy perimeter looks.

Beyond that, there was some uncharacteristically lazy stuff out there, like this failure to get back in transition on a simple inbound pass:

You rarely see that stuff from the Sixers. They’ll point that out in the film session, for sure.

As for the other end of the floor, Ben Simmons looked indecisive early, turning the ball over three times before hitting a field goal. Boston did a nice job of bringing a second guy over and meeting him at the top of the key, which sort of walled him off. He wasn’t deep enough for a drive and kick-out, and things got kind of clumpy in the middle of the floor, which made him pick up his dribble and sort of junked up the Sixers’ offensive rhythm. They didn’t move the ball as well as they normally do and seemed a bit off their DHO and screen game.

I mentioned yesterday how Boston finished the regular season with the best three-point defense in the NBA, and I think you saw how they normally pester and close out on the perimeter. Redick did a nice job countering that when he faked a DHO and instead cut back to his starting spot when Tatum tried to go over top of this screen:

Marco Belinelli saw this, too, and had two or three instances in the game where he was able to backdoor or go underneath to get looks near the rim due to the perimeter overplay.

Keep an eye on that as Brown looks for wrinkles to attack Boston’s defensive strengths.


Robert Covington

I’m not usually one to single out individual players, but Covington had a terrible night, shooting 0-6 from the floor and looking completely lost on defense. Normally he makes up for his offensive clunkers with solid defensive play, but he seemed totally out of sorts on both ends of the floor.

This play jumped off the TV screen and smacked me right in the face:

That’s rough. Covington is tracking Rozier on the perimeter and never turns his head. The ball is thrown right over him and by the time he turns to locate it, Rozier is already pulling up for three.

Here, again, he’s not looking at the ball:

Just pretty poor stuff all-around.


Awful announcing

I can’t get enough of Kevin McHale and Brian Anderson doing the Boston accent. “Mahhhcus to Mahhhhcus.” Ugh, please, that was almost as bad as the pair finding a way to turn Ben Simmons’ between-the-legs pass into a New England Patriots reference.

Obviously when one half of the broadcast team played 13 seasons for the one of the teams currently on the floor, it’s gonna sound biased. Beyond that, I don’t know if McHale even pays attention or watches any games, because his analysis is just pedestrian at best.

Also, I HATE the interview they tape with the coach during the 1st quarter intermission, which then plays at the start of the second quarter. We just had six days to talk to Brett Brown about basketball, and he just spoke for 15 minutes before the game. There literally is nothing more for him to say.

For the one billionth time, no coach or player should ever have to speak to the media during the course of a game. These guys do enough media already, just let them do their jobs without shoving a microphone or camera in their face. [Editor’s note: I vehemently disagree with Kevin here. One of the things the XFL brought to sport was floor-level access during the game. It brings the viewer closer. Ditto with that NBC cameraman running into the end zone after a touchdown. It’s plain and generic fare, for sure, but coaches who understand that it adds to the entertainment value of the game give real answers, like Brown.]


Other notes:

  • Simmons played about 42 minutes. T.J. McConnell gave him a brief respite off the bench, about 4 minutes in the second half. Looks like Markelle Fultz is not in the plans for this series.
  • The Sixers only turned the ball over 12 times, which was well below their season average. They out-rebounded Boston and had the edge on the offensive glass, so it’s not like either of those two areas hurt them.
  • They also limited points in the paint (40) and second chance points (13). It was really the three-point shooting and perimeter stuff that killed them.
  • The Sixers did get to the foul line last night and took advantage of Joel Embiid being a low block strength. They shot 26-35 (74%) from the stripe while Boston was 18-19 (94%).


Where it hurts

I didn’t see another spot to add this to the story, but Joel Embiid got Marcus Smart right in the crotch last night:


I feel you man:

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7 Responses

  1. “I’m not going to call you out but I’m still kinda calling you out”

    Way to call out your colleague, Kevin! You are great at the relationship aspect of your job! Keep it up!

  2. Why was the plan for JJ to guard Tatum? You had six days off and that’s what you came up with? It’s very clear that without Jaylen Brown, Boston only has 3 scorers. Why would you not put Ben/Cov on Tatum? Those guys are miles better defensively than Redick. Brett totally outsmarted himself. Let JJ take the career 36% shooter with the bum thumb, and put your best defenders on their best scorers. Not that complicated.

  3. isn’t “that’s not who I am” the go-to excuse all liberals use when they get caught at something embarrassing?

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