The Boston Celtics defeated the Philadelphia 76ers 92-91 to, honestly, steal Game 1. The game had plenty of ups and downs for the Sixers, but ultimately they lost a road game they clearly should have won.
So let’s go over what happened. The Celtics came out slow to start the game, finishing the first quarter down 10. They’re old after all. But Celtics fans have seen this happen against inferior teams, and they just expected their team to wake up at some point. They did, but it wasn’t the major impact you’d expect. The Celtics started playing well but the Sixers hung right in there with them.
A lot of things happened that I’m just going to list in lieu of breaking down, because I have one major issue that I need to get to. Kevin Garnett proved once again that he was the best player on the Celtics, by far, by being everything on both ends of the court. Rajon Rondo‘s cool-looking stats got inflated again, though to his credit he hit a few big shots and made some “how did he do that” type plays. Ray Allen missed a few jumpers, but the Celtics hit nearly all of their free throws. On the other end, the Sixers offense functioned well throughout most of the game in the half court, which was surprising. They looked pretty good, and the chances for a win were good too.
That is, until Lou Williams happened.
Listen, I understand the guy was our leading scorer. He’s the only person on the team who doesn’t have a conscience. And with players like him, you have to live with the ups and downs if you play them.
But you don’t always have to play them.
Playing Lou Williams was the problem late in the fourth quarter, the turning point which ultimately resulted in a Boston victory. To review: the Celtics went small, to a three guard lineup along with Paul Pierce and Kevin Garnett. The Sixers had to match with more perimeter players. In the current rotation, there are 5 perimeter players, but one is the now seldom-used Jodie Meeks. The other four are Lou, Andre Iguodala, Jrue Holiday, and Evan Turner. Iggy and Turner were givens in the lineup with how they played, and Jrue would definitely be in for his defense on Ray Allen. That leaves one open spot. Williams struggled with his shooting and decision making again, while Meeks barely played but did hit the one three he attempted. One of the two had to play. Doug chose Lou.
And then Lou-ball happened, which worked so well this season prior to today that you couldn’t imagine it going wrong*. Well, it did go wrong, with four consecutive empty possessions which allowed the Celtics to get a six point lead. The Sixers hit some difficult shots to get back in it, but ultimately came up short.
*Note: this is sarcasm, if you couldn’t tell before. With Lou-ball as our primary end-of-game offense, the Sixers struggled so badly in late-game situations that they finished with a record of 3-19 in games decided by 7 or less, games which are considered “close” games. Our offense was among the worst in the league in the clutch. We went away from Lou-ball in Round 1, and won 3 close games. Going back to it, even for a stretch that wasn’t all that late but still within the final 4 minutes, was not a good idea. Not at all.
The result was four consecutive empty possessions, including two bad jumpers and a pathetic attempt to avoid contact in transition. He has no idea how basketball works, I swear. His pick-and-roll defense, which essentially is “run into the screener”, hurt on the defensive end. It was a complete failure all around, and it’s not like the fans couldn’t have seen it coming. But it happened, and it turned the tide of the game.
That decision making, both the idea to go small by Doc Rivers and the counter by Collins, made the difference for the game. We didn’t have the right counter. And in a game where Iguodala, Turner, and Spencer Hawes provide so much offense, this feels like more than one loss. Because finding another win in Boston seems like a tall task.