The Boston Celtics entered the 2018 NBA Playoffs as the most overlooked team in the Eastern Conference. Yes, they finished as the two seed, but the team announced before the playoffs that Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving will not be available for the rest of the season. That put the Celtics in a tough spot entering the first round, but like they’ve done all season, they accepted the challenge.
The first round began with a seven-game series against the Milwaukee Bucks. The Bucks, who’d been dealing with injuries all season, entered the playoffs the healthiest they’ve been all year. Even with a full roster, the Bucks could not make it out of the quarterfinals. The Celtics advanced with a well-rested Philadelphia 76ers team on the horizon.
The 76ers had the luxury of resting one full week before the start of the semifinals. Not only were they well rested, they also entered this series the healthiest they’ve been all season. For the Celtics, their injury situation got worse. Jaylen Brown, who averaged 17.9 points and 4.7 rebounds per game against Milwaukee, was ruled out for Game One. That put the Celtics in an even tougher spot, but they accepted the challenge.
The evening started with Scary Terry Rozier grabbing the attention of the media upon entrance to the TD Garden. Rozier walked in wearing a vintage blue New England Patriots Drew Bledsoe jersey. He made sure he got the final jab on new rival Eric Bledsoe.
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 1, 2018
While Rozier got the attention before the game, it followed him after. The Celtics won 117-101 behind Rozier’s 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. He also shot 11-19 from the field and an insane 7-9 from three. The 76ers only made five three-point shots.
While Rozier carried the load, his supporting cast made major contributions. Al Horford finished with 26 points, seven assists, and four rebounds, while rookie Jayson Tatum scored a playoff career-high 28 points. Marcus Morris added 11 off the bench and Marcus Smart led the team with nine rebounds. That makes you forget he’s only 6’4″.
Marcus Smart grabs the offensive rebound over Embiid then finishes the and-one. Guy is a DOG. #NBAPlayoffs
— Basketball Society (@BBallSociety_) May 1, 2018
Even without Irving, Hayward, and Brown, the Celtics made it clear last night that they will not go down without a fight. Brad Stevens noticed the 76ers looked off due to increased rest, so he had the Celtics pick up the pace and play aggressive early and it paid off. Up 1-0, the Celtics got great news in regards to injuries this morning. Brown told reporters that he will play in Game 2 after resting his hamstring. That gives the Celtics an aggressive wing that exemplifies all the strengths.
The series is far from over, but the 76ers know they have a lot of work to do to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. These areas need major improvement starting Thursday night to make that happen.
**Fellow Basketball Society writer, Kyle Allan, takes over to speak on the Philadelphia 76ers.**
1. Defensive Pressure
Defensive pressure and three-point shooting were major concerns for the 76ers last night. The shooting will most likely come back to normal, but the defensive intensity and effort was something that people hadn’t seen of the 76ers for a long, long time. During their dominant 20-1 run before this series, the 76ers were able to rely on the ability of length and size to match up with teams on the perimeter. It may have been rust, but they had a tough time with the Celtics’ shooting. The Celtics shot 17-36 (47.2%) from behind the arc, led by Rozier who made 7-9 from three for a team-high 29 points.
Joel Embiid struggled on a few rotations that lead to some blown coverages and opportunities. As you can see from above, Embiid was no where near Al Horford on this three-point shot.
The other area of concern is the 76ers best shooters are the ones who had trouble guarding the perimeter. Marco Belinelli was a liability on the defensive end and his minutes could be restricted if the Celtics continue to score at will against him. J.J. Redick and Robert Covington also struggled in Game 1, but are the two shooters who can turn around and defend. Covington was a shell of himself offensively in the series vs. the Heat and his defensive ability lacked in Game 1. He and Redick will be key to how Philadelphia respond on both sides of the perimeter.
2. Ben Simmons Has To Take Control
Ben Simmons has been sensational this year in the eyes of 76ers fans and teammates. Some players around the league, though, like to try and get under his skin. Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum were two players who had the job of enforcer on defense vs. Simmons. Horford was also a crucial piece of the varied defensive looks that Stevens and the Celtics threw at Simmons. Simmons still had some impressive takes and dunks on his way to 18 points, but struggled with seven turnovers and never looked to be completely at ease as he was playing 42 minutes on six days rest. Simmons knows now that he will have to face multiple different defenders in this series and that they will be physical. If the shooters around him are able to contribute and space out the floor, those turnovers will turn into assists and it’ll also create more scoring opportunities. The defensive end will contribute to how the 76ers are able to run the floor off misses, which is where Simmons will have the most opportunity to produce. Boston’s length and athleticism is an underrated factor in this series.