Boston D Party
On Thursday night, with their backs against the wall in arguably the biggest game of the Jayson Tatum/Jaylen Brown era to date, the Boston Celtics marched into Wells Fargo Center and gutted out a 95-86 victory against the Philadelphia 76ers to even the series 3-3. It set up the two best words in sports; Game Seven. The unsung hero for the Boston Celtics was none other than veteran leader Marcus Smart who was all over the place from start to finish. Smart hit two threes from deep by the 8:11 mark in the first to help the Celtics build momentum. With without a doubt one of the most underwhelming playoff performances from teammate Jayson Tatum, Tatum still closed Game 6 by scoring 14 points (4-7 FG) in the final 6:31 of the fourth quarter after an abysmal uncharacteristic 0-11 start. Smart stuffed the stat sheet totaling 22 points, seven rebounds, seven assists, and two blocks on 8/15 shooting. Smart was also a team-high +18 on the court.
Jaylen Brown chipped in 17 points, six rebounds, and four assists. Brown’s defense was a huge key to James Harden’s inefficient 4/16 night and was a staple to two Celtics’ wins in Games 2 & 3. Checking Harden early in the shot clock before half-court has only forced Harden to work harder to get the offense situated possession to possession. Of the 61 possessions Jaylen Brown defended James Harden in Games 2 & 3, Harden shot 0-7 from the floor scoring just one point and four turnovers. If Jaylen Brown can maintain discipline and neutralize Harden’s dynamic creativity then the Celtics will have a great opportunity to secure Game 7 and advance.
Without a doubt, the biggest adjustment that anchored the Celtics’ improbable Game 6 win was head coach Joe Mazzulla’s insertion of big man Robert Williams III into the starting lineup for guard Derrick White. The Celtics allowed the Sixers to shoot 52.9% in the paint (non-restricted area) in Game 5 which ultimately forced Mazzulla to a mid-series adjustment with their backs against the walls. Williams III was only averaging just under 20 minutes played a game prior to returning to the starting lineup. In Game 6 the switch worked out for the better. Williams III played 28 minutes, putting up 10 points, nine boards, and two blocks and the Celtics were a +31 when Williams III was on the floor. The Celtics also held the Sixers to 17.6% shooting in the paint in Game 6 as well. The combination of both Al Horford and Williams III in the front court limited constant penetration from Sixers scorers and forced them to try and beat Boston from the perimeter.
Every series throughout the playoffs is matchup dependent. I’m sure against most teams, a two-big lineup may get exposed and may not be the most ideal winning formula because of the redundancy of paint rim protection due to numerous opposing players pulling bigs to the perimeter. Specifically in this Sixers series where NBA MVP Joel Embiid by default pulls his opponents to the perimeter, it’s allowed the Sixers specifically James Harden and Tyrese Maxey to thrive at the rim. With Rob Williams III at the rim, it allows Horford to be more of a Swiss army knife on the perimeter and hold his own on switches. You add that niche to undoubtedly the best group of guard/wing defenders in the league in Smart, White, Tatum, Brown, and Brogdon you have a championship-caliber team that offers much more than the ability to put the ball in the basket. Now the question is, will they take advantage of the opportunity?