After losing game 1, the 76ers are back at it tonight for game 2 against the Boston Celtics. Down 0-1, it is imperative that the Sixers get a win tonight. In my opinion, the keys to victory are simple.
Go to Jo
Joel Embiid started out game 1 going 5-5 for 11 points. He then shot the ball ten times the rest of the game. Embiid finished with 26 and 16, in part due to his 9-12 shooting from the free throw line. This simply is not enough. In a playoff game, down one of your two all stars, you need Joel Embiid to be the dominant force that he is.
After the first quarter in game 1, it was obvious that no one on the Celtics roster could guard Embiid. Theis, Kanter and Robert Williams could not handle the 7’2 bigman. However, Brett Brown went away from him. Yes, the Celtics began bringing double teams, which force Embiid to pass out but at some point the head coach has to have a set of plays designed to get Embiid the ball in or near the post with space.
Embiid said after game 1, “I just need to be more assertive and demand the ball, just be more aggressive.” This is where I have an issue. Embiid was aggressive in the first quarter, yet the offense went away from him. He shouldn’t have to demand the ball, he should be the focal point of this team’s offense. The primary goal should be to get Embiid the ball in game 2.
Matisse Thybulle should be starting. It’s that simple. Thybulle is a budding 3 and D type of player. Thybulle is shooting .400 on 1.8 3pt attempts (stats via basketball reference) per game in the bubble. In game 1, when guarding Jayson Tatum (who finished with a career playoff high of 32 points), Thybulle held Tatum to 4 points on 2-9 shooting. Against a trio like Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker, the Sixers need all the perimeter defense they can get. Thybulle provides just that. While Al Horford can provide playoff experience, the fit next to Embiid is just not there. The spacing is off because the two players both primarily operate out of the post, which leads to double teams. Starting Matisse Thybulle would be an amazing chess move to make for Brett Brown against the Celtics and their perimeter oriented offense. The move would benefit the offense and defense.
More from Tobias and Al Horford
The Sixers need more out of Tobias Harris. He has to produce more. He’s paid like an all-star and when the team needs him to be that guy, he has to produce like one. 15 points in a playoff game isn’t enough for the highest paid player on the team, especially when the team is missing a player like Ben Simmons. He has to be that second option behind Embiid. If the team does move in the direction of starting Thybulle, Harris would be moved to power forward. This is a move that will increase spacing around Embiid. Harris is shooting .412 from three in the bubble. This move will also allow Harris to use his size to his advantage on the wing or in the post when backing down the smaller (weight) wings of the Celtics. Harris has to be more locked in and contribute more offensively in game two.
Al Horford was brought to the Sixers for 2 main reasons. One: to get him away from Celtics and allow Embiid to not have to face him. Two: playoff experience and leadership. Horford played 31 minutes against the Celtics in game one and 6 points on 3-7 shooting. He was a -18 and slo had 3 turnovers. Reminder: the Sixers paid this man $109 million. Horford’s minutes should be staggered with Embiid’s so that he can have room to operate and operate as the quarterback of the offense, as he did in 2017 with the Celtics. Allow Horford to operate at the wing and near the top of the key, distribute the ball, and use his veteran skillset to his advantage against his former team.
Less Josh Richardson (Offensively)
Josh Richardson played some good defense in game one. He did exactly what he was supposed to do on that end. However, offensively, there were ill-advised shots, bad drives in traffic and above all else: he took more shots than Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris. Richardson is a fine spot up shooter who can knock down a 3 or two a game, however, he should not be shooting 9 threes in a playoff game. This simply cannot happen if the 76ers expect to win this series. Those shots have to go to Tobias Harris and Shake Milton, who shot 3-5 from deep in game one. Richardson’s job should be to play defense and take the shots that come to him within the flow of the game. For the 76ers to win game 2, Richardson needs to be the same guy he was defensively in game one, but dial it back just a bit on offense.
More Bench Production from Guys Not Named Alec Burks
“Certified Bucket” Alec Burks (as I call him on Twitter, follow me) came off the bench and provided instant offense, scoring 18 points on 6-15 shooting. He was the only Sixer capable of doing so from the bench. Matisse Thybulle pitched in 5 points, but that isn’t what he’s in the game to do. Furkan Korkmaz played 7 minutes and had no shot attempts. Mike Scott played 2 minutes and had one shot attempt, which he missed. If the Sixers got 2 or 3 three pointers (which is why they’re in the game) from either one of them, maybe the result of the game is different.
Play Disciplined Basketball
The absolute most important key: PLAY DISCIPLINED BASKETBALL. In game one the 76ers turned the ball over 18 times which led to 21 Celtics points. Tobias Harris and Joel Embiid both have spoke on the issue. Embiid was quoted after the game one loss saying, “I feel like sometimes, we try to do too much and we just gotta let the game come to us.” Harris spoke on Tuesday saying, “Turnovers were a big focal point. I think we were rushing it.” (Quote via Tom Moore)
The Sixers simply have to be more focused and more prepared. The discipline, effort and focus have to be there. Whether that be on the boards (offensively and defensively), making passes, or getting into offensive sets. This team has to move with a purpose and Brett Brown has to have them prepared to play in game 2.