Game plan discipline.
Boston had it Monday night in Game 1. They slowed the game way down, a pace of 99 possessions (well off the Sixers preferred pace). On defense, they took away transition buckets, particularly the threes, on which the Sixers thrive. In the halfcourt, Philly loves to move off the ball on curls and plays to get quick looks, but Boston cut a lot of those off. The shots the Sixers wanted weren’t there, and they shot 47.2 percent from three.
On offense, Boston did to Philly what the Sixers do to others — run enough actions that the defense loses focus and opens things up. That and they went right at Marco Belinelli whenever they could.
The result was a Terry Rozier with 29 points and seven threes, Jayson Tatum with 28 points, and a comfortable 117-101 win for a Boston team that was supposed to struggle to score in this series. Not in Game 1, despite Jaylen Brown sitting on the bench with a hamstring injury.
The Celtics lead the series 1-0 with Game 2 Thursday night in Boston.
“We’re a well-coached team, we’re going to play hard regardless of who is out there on the floor,” Rozier said after the game. “Obviously we’ve been showing that (all season). We’ve got to keep it going, we’ve got to pay attention to details.”
It’s going to be difficult to keep it going at this pace, everything worked for Boston. The Celtics shot 17-of-36 from three as a team, and got 26 points from Al Horford, who knocked down a couple of threes (as did Aron Baynes) to pull Joel Embiid away from the basket and open up lanes.
For Boston, it was the kind of night where Marcus Smart could outrebound Joel Embiid and get the and-1.
The young Sixers did not look ready for the moment, they were out of synch from the start. This isn’t the first round of the playoffs anymore, things ratchet up. The TD Garden in Boston is a far more raucous environment than Miami (who Philly handled in the first round), and the Boston players are more talented than the Heat’s squad.
“I don’t know if the time off hurt us (six days between games), but it sure felt like we were playing a good team today,” Sixers coach Brett Brown said, adding later “Defensively, offensively, this isn’t who we are. This was a very poor game from us.”
Embiid had 31 points on 21 shots and was a handful for Boston’s defense. However, the Celtics were 5-of-26 from three (19.2 percent) and were just missing looks all game. Redick finished with 20 points, and Ben Simmons had 18.
A key for the Sixers in this series is to force missed shots and turnovers, then convert those into transition buckets — Philadelphia played at a fast pace all season long and averaged 103 possessions per game in the first round, but were held under 100 in this one (99). Take away the easy buckets and the Sixers do not put up points the same way, and it’s something they need to focus on for the next game.
But more importantly, the Sixers were just not dialed in mentally. Robert Covington could well end up on the NBA All-Defensive team this season for his play, but he lost his man multiple times in Game 1. It was an epidemic.
It went that way from the start. The first half went about as well as the Celtics could have scripted it. Boston defends well and the Sixers seemed to rush their play, leading to a series of quick turnovers (three by Simmons), while Redick started 1-of-6 from the floor. The Celtics didn’t double and challenged the Sixers to beat them one-on-one, and Philly’s ball movement was cut off.
Meanwhile, the Celtics showed incredible game-plan discipline, and clearly at the top of their scouting report was “attack Marco Belinelli at every opportunity” because they hunted him out. The result was plays like this from Tatum.
The result was a 56-45 Boston lead at the half. Tatum had 16 at the break, Horford 12, and Rozier had 13 points and 7 rebounds. Those guys continued that shooting and play through the second half, and now they have a lead in this series.