The Sixers lost game 1 of their series with Boston 109-101, and while there was a lot of bad, there are some silver linings to take from this loss. Here’s my breakdown of tonight’s performance, and what the series will look like moving forward.
The game was essentially lost in the first half—careless passing (13 turnovers) and lax effort on the glass (9 off. rebs. allowed) undercut 55% shooting from the field.
In the first half the Sixers were able to wipe away a 55% to 43% shooting advantage by going -3 on the offensive glass and posting a -9 TO differential—leading to a 36-48 shot disparity. For every 3 attempts we took that half they took 4; you obviously can’t win that way, and those sort of numbers will erase a strong shooting half every time.
Having the same number of turnovers as you did three-point attempts is unsettling. It’s really a surprise they were only down by six when you consider all of this, but with the way their shot was falling they needed to be up six at half to steal this game.
The Celtics defense does an excellent job of making the simple passes a little more stressful, and the absence of Ben Simmons was clear if not for those reasons alone. Post entries and basic swing passes around sagging wing defenders just became chores for the Sixers less dynamic perimeter players.
The fact that our star big man can’t (and is often unwilling to) pass out of a double team certainly exasperates this issue. Joel was elite scoring the ball in the first quarter and it’s clear the Celtics weren’t going to let that happen all night. Double teams predictably came often, and sagging help defense wasn’t exactly hard for Embiid to see, yet he turned the ball over anyway—choosing to both dribble the air out of the ball, and throw lifeless passes into the teeth of the defense.
If the Sixers hope to compete in this series they can’t let strong shooting stretches like this one continue to be undercut by poor passing and lax effort on the glass.
Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combined for 61 points on 37 shots (69.7% true shooting)—if for a second you think we’re better off with Ben Simmons you need to get a grip
Tatum and Brown torched our defense tonight, and while the second half showed that Brett has an answer for Tatum in Thybulle—who limited him to 11 in the second half—don’t expect that band-aid to solve the larger issue of our lacking perimeter defense.
There will undoubtedly be moments when our offense makes more sense with just Joel on the floor, but the idea that the overall team could be better without Simmons needs to be stopped. Ben is arguably the best wing defender in the league, and it’s safe to say that 61 points on 37 shots becomes more like 48 on 32 shots, or something more manageable if he’s healthy.
Heading into the series I wrote about Thybulle and Richardson as keys to slowing down Kemba and the Celtics other perimeter players—though I didn’t fully see ‘Tisse matching-up with Tatum—and while both players were dogged defenders in game 1, it clearly wasn’t enough.
For what it’s worth, Kemba, Smart, Hayward, Wanamaker combined for 37 points on 37 shots—so there are positives here. But all that tells me is the Sixers would be perfectly equipped to stop this Boston team if they just had one single elite wing defender, and unfortunately that player is hurt.
Despite the first half effort, despite the clear areas of vulnerability, and despite the loss, the Sixers proved they can hang in this series (and possibly win).
Look, smart money is still on Boston, but the odds aren’t as long as they once appeared. If you consider how poorly they protected the ball in the first half, and how poorly they shot in the second half—17/44 FG (38.6%)—they shouldn’t have been in this game. The fact that they hung around is a testament to they’re ability to ugly a game—grind to the line, attack the glass—and to put together a suffocating defense around Joel Embiid.
Heading into this game you would’ve heard me rave about the Celtics motion offense and how poorly the Sixers roster (sans Simmons) is equipped to slow them down, but other than in individual matchups, I didn’t find them to be as ill-fated as I expected. Size at the rim in the form of Joel and Al clearly had an impact on Boston’s shot selection; and the ability of J-Rich and ‘Tisse to run Kemba off the three-point (and stifle his pick-and-roll attack) limited Boston in ways that we had hoped, but didn’t necessarily expect.
If the Sixers can string together stretches of strong shooting with stretches where they don’t hemorrhage possessions in the form of turnovers and rebounds then they have something to work with offensively. But if they continue to do one or the other throughout the duration of this series then it’s hard to see their defense carrying them to 4 wins in 6 games.