Thus far there is no joy in Celticsville and our dudes keep striking out. They traveled into Philly on the heels of a loss against Milwaukee that really didn’t need to happen, largely stemming from a fourth-quarter collapse. And this is a much improved Sixers team from the squads the Celtics have waxed mercilessly the past several years, with Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons finally active. It wasn’t easy and looked atrocious at times, but Boston held their mud and made big shots to come back at the game’s end despite a near collapse in Q3.
THE GAME FLOW
A day off makes a world of difference in the NBA. It’s why the league lengthened the season to provide more space for the same number of games. Tonight’s Celtics, frontlined by Kyrie Irving, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, Al Horford and Aron Baynes, looked much fresher than Wednesday’s hesitant–and undoubtedly still shellshocked–team. Kyrie is slowly but surely jelling with the flow-and-go of Brad Stevens’ offense, and the passing looked better than it has thus far. It generated successful open looks for Horford, Brown and even Baynes to get jumpers in.
The Sixers are no slouch in their new schemes, which the long-beleaguered-by-roster-suckitude Brett Brown finally has competent players to run: successful prospects like Simmons and Saric, a potentially transcendent big man in Embiid and reliable vets like J.J. Redick and our friend Amir Johnson. With Simmons playing point guard from the 4 spot, his energy bleeds into everyone alongside him on the court, creating transition-heavy offense that kept Philly within striking distance through the game’s early minutes. (The Redick/Jerryd Bayless backcourt handled most of the actual scoring.)
Embiid had much less of an effect on the game, at least early on, than I expected. It’s not about his minutes–he’s worked wonders in short bursts of play before. He appeared somewhat discomfited, unsure of himself while on the floor, scoring only 2 points (free throws) in 11 minutes of play in the first half. But it didn’t hurt the team much, and he collected 4 boards and an assist in that time.
Boston could’ve been ahead much further than the four or five points they were if not for weird yips at the charity stripe, most of them Terry Rozier’s. This shortcoming particularly annoyed me due to how shitty the officiating was to both sides–Philly took advantage of their FT opportunities and Boston could not. Gross turnovers also bedeviled our dudes: 12 in the first half and 8 in Q2 alone. The combination of actual fuckups and idiotic officiating gave Philly room to maneuver ahead and take a 50-46 lead at halftime.
The promising Q1 appearance of this squad seemed even further away as the second half began, with the Sixers padding their lead just enough and the Celtics’ deficit widening, despite poor shooting by all. Baynes, overzealous, went from 2 fouls to 4 in no time, Jaylen and Horford saw their shooting go cold and the bench offered little comfort beyond Terry Rozier (and, much earlier, a Guerschon Yabusele 3-pointer). Tatum, who’d looked fairly confident in his first two games by rookie standards, seemed a bit logy, though still managed to collect double-digit points, mostly at the line, and rein in some boards.
Ultimately, the officiating lost its shit so thoroughly in this third frame that neither team did well at all; Philly only stayed ahead because they were already ahead. Only in the quarter’s last few minutes did the Celtics manage to reestablish any sort of rhythm, mostly off hard drives to the basket that created free-throw chances.
That rhythmic comfort had clear impact as the last quarter started, with Shane Larkin coming out as backup point and generating several points through shots and assists–enough to bring Celtics within easy striking distance. At around the 8:00 mark, it became a war of attrition with the squads trading leads. Things didn’t fully fall into Boston’s hands until the last five minutes. Jumpers from Larkin, Kyrie and Tatum, as well as a few debatably unearned free throws, brought the lead to its final margin of victory, 102-92.
THE HOT (AND NOT)
Hot: Six different Celtics reaching double figures (Tatum, Horford, Baynes and Kyrie, plus Rozier and Larkin off the bench); outrebounding Philly by a double-digit margin despite that squad’s size;
Not: Excessive and not infrequently inexplicable (sometimes just plain wrong) calls by a weird officiating crew. Lauren Holtkamp is new-ish, but has a reasonable reputation; Kane Fitzgerald and Marat Kogut I don’t know but they have 8+ seasons of reffing apiece. Regardless, their combined work was like NFL replacement refs shit.
Also, Kyrie’s trey-shooting was off, even though his offense clicked overall. And the turnovers…Lord. 19 total! Philly weren’t exactly paragons of ball control, but still had less (15).
TWEET OF THE NIGHT:
International Cs fan shoutout! @whaamncheese hails from Netherlands and often comes with the hilarity:
GREEN FIRE (HIGHLIGHTS)
TITO NOT AFRAID. TITO KILLS GIANTS.
BAYNES, HEAD OF THE BRUISER BRIGADE. A tenacious offensive board/putback by any standard, but more importantly it reinvigorated a officiating-bedraggled Celtics team and served as a turning point for the game.
WHAT THE HELL WAS THAT?
Fultz made these free throws, but his form still looks horrid. TATUM BETTER THO.