Once again, the 76ers and Celtics will meet up, this time with a tied series and the Sixers having all the momentum. While there’s little more to look for than I’ve already gone over for the first two games (you can find those here and here).
First, some details. The game will start just after 7:00 EST on TNT. There aren’t expected to be any major injury issues keeping players out that have already played, though that may change. There’s no fewer than 7 players dealing with known issues. I likely will only see the final 15 minutes of the game or so, which sucks but sometimes life gets in the way of things.
In this post, I’ll focus instead on adjustments each team may make. I’ve thought of two for Boston and one for the Sixers, though certainly there are more to be made and looked for.
Celtics: More Avery Bradley
In Game 2, Avery Bradley suffered a separated shoulder after getting hit by Elton Brand on what had been ruled a clean block. Bradley would disagree. The injury knocked him out of the game and significantly reduced his playing time, though he would fight through the pain and return for the entirety of the fourth quarter, where he helped the Celtics make up an eight point deficit.
His +18 plus/minus rating, while not requiring caps lock under the rules established by Cardboard Gerald, was the best on the Celtics – the only other player in this range for the Celtics was Kevin Garnett, with a +16 – and for good reason. When he played on the ball to start play, the Sixers could not get into their offense. It wasn’t a situation where the Sixers ran a play and couldn’t get open – he would pester the ball handler (either Jrue Holiday or Evan Turner) and force the Sixers to abandon play calls. The Sixers have enough trouble scoring within our half-court offense. We often couldn’t get to that stage because of Bradley.
His offensive impact was pretty large too. He hit two of his three point attempts and, unlike some other Celtics, he’s also a formidable threat in the open court with the younger Rajon Rondo.
You have to wonder how much the shoulder injury will hurt him in this regard, because he likely cannot be as aggressive as he’d like without risking re-injuring himself. But his defense, even with an injury, seems too good to hold back.
Celtics: Finding a groove, and a role, for Paul Pierce
The biggest lie in the NBA today (okay, it maybe not as big of a lie as Kobe supporters can come up with regarding their champion) is that Rajon Rondo is an elite play-maker like Chris Paul and Steve Nash. Here are the facts: Rondo is great at giving players the ball as soon as they do all of the work of getting themselves open as a part of the Celtics offense. He should be given credit for putting the ball in their hands, as that’s the definition of an assist, but he should not be regarded as greater than or equal to Chris Paul or Steve Nash when it comes to play-making abilities. His supposed brilliant play-making abilities led having a regular-season offense worse than ours, by offensive efficiency standards (24th, versus the Sixers’ 17th overall ranking). He’s a very good player who can do amazing things, but the team numbers and his individual ones just do not add up.
I will mention, though, that the Celtics offense is markedly worse without Rondo, so he’s obviously doing something right, but he also plays primarily with their best offensive players. His value is tougher to gauge than pretty much anyone’s in the league, though obviously I have my own thoughts on it.
The reason why I bring this up is because Paul Pierce is struggling mightily right now, mainly because no one is creating offense for him when he can’t do so himself. Pierce is generally relied upon, with the help of some (illegal) KG screens, to get himself open. His patented elbow shot has always been a late-game option for the Celtics, which he does without Rondo’s help. But with his injury, and the sparking defense of Andre Iguodala, he’s been unable to create anything other than a ton of turnovers. And because Rondo is not used to actually creating for Pierce, getting Paul engaged on offense has become rather difficult for Boston.
His best use would likely be as a spot up shooter or a decoy for other players on the offense, because the injury won’t be going away and neither (hopefully) will be Iguodala. Instead, go away from Pierce, get arguably the league’s best perimeter defender away from the majority of your offense, and hope that the other four players on court produce. If so, he could be the beneficiary of others and fill a role in the Celtics offense.
Sixers: Separate Turner and Garnett as much as possible
No, I’m not worried that they’ll get into fight, or a one-on-one match up between the two. Simply put, Evan Turner should be on the court for every minute that Garnett sits, and play Turner only when unavoidable while Garnett plays.
A major key to the Sixers win, in terms of plus/minus, was Lou Williams. This seems surprising, because Lou was God-awful pretty much the entire game, like he had been the entire postseason. But his being in the game and Turner’s not being in the game made a huge difference for the offense. The change was made early in the game, and since the starting lineup was outscored 15-2 by Boston’s, it seemed like a solid choice. Brent Koremenos called for Turner to be cast aside to help the offense before game two on HoopSpeak.com, and his explanation is actually a perfect summation of what happened when the Sixers switched from Turner to Lou in Game 2:
… when Iguodala shares the court with Evan Turner, he is normally relegated to spot up duty while Turner operates out of the pick-and-roll. This isn’t because Turner is a better pick-and-roll ball handler — far from it — but because Iguodala is also serviceable when spacing the floor and Turner, well, isn’t. This awkward dynamic is a byproduct of Philly’s desire to pair the versatile defensive stalwarts on the other end of the floor.
But if the Sixers really want a shot to win this series, Doug Collins has to unleash Iguodala, even if that means playing Turner far less. Going for long stretches with a lineup of Jrue Holiday and Lou Williams supporting Iggy in the backcourt would create the space needed for Philly’s unheralded star to carve up Boston’s defense with a pick-and-pop pairing of his choosing.
Given that Boston starts both Rondo and Avery Bradley, going small does no harm to Philly’s defensive plans until Ray Allen checks into the game. Even then, Holiday has both the size and ability to chase Allen through screens well enough for Iguodala to turn it into a net positive at the other end. In this series, Philly will need every net positive they can find in order to grind out a place to the conference finals.
Literally, this exact thing happened in Game 2. I wonder if Doug read Koremenos’ post.
But I want to add something else: Iguodala (or anyone else) was still largely unable to finish inside because Garnett was on the court, protecting the rim like he always does. The Sixers got several open jumpers, but struggled to get inside. And even without Garnett, Iguodala is a terrible finisher in traffic. Enter Turner, who isn’t a great finisher but is much more willing to get to the rim. Without Garnett, Greg Stiemsma or Ryan Hollins (HAHAHAHAHA) will likely just foul or possibly block his shots in that case. I’ll take my chances on them.
Not having Avery Bradley on the court would help this as well, but Bradley might be forced to guard a smaller player on the court, like Lou or Jrue, while Evan plays at the 3 spot.