With a facemask dangling off an ear, Philadelphia coach Brett Brown unfolded the pair of glasses sitting in his lap to peer down at the box score from his team’s 109-101 Game 1 loss to the Boston Celtics.
Even before tipoff, Brown explained the game plan Monday would “be revealed, I think quite clearly” through the starting lineup chosen for the 21st postseason meeting between the teams. What quickly became apparent is Brown gambled on Philadelphia’s size and physicality. He lost that wager to Boston’s elite perimeter play, led by Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown combining for 61 points as the Celtics took a 1-0 lead in this Eastern Conference playoff series.
Brown’s move and the final result make for an intriguing chess match moving forward that likely finds Philadelphia forced to make the majority of the adjustments in this best-of-seven series.
“I hope that we can do a better job of defending them and some of the schemes we’re trying to execute,” Brown said. “You can’t minimize the fact that losing stinks, but I feel like there are answers to the question of why.”
Tatum and Brown became the first pair of Celtics teammates age 23 or younger to score 25 points in the same playoff game.
“We’re both hungry. We’re both young guys,” said Tatum, who scored a game-high 32 points to become the youngest Celtic to rack up 30 points and at least 10 rebounds (13) in a playoff outing.
“We’ve got quite a bit of playoff experience. We’ve been in some tough games together, some big moments, won some big games, lost some big ones. We’ve both got a chip on our shoulder. It’s one game. We ain’t won the series. So, we’ve got to get ready for the next game.”
Interestingly, Brown and the Sixers staff actually mulled over the idea of starting Matisse Thybulle going into Game 1, as the rookie had performed surprisingly well during the regular season and in the seeding games. As a defender, he possesses the skill set to slow down Tatum (especially with Ben Simmons out recovering from a knee surgery).
As NBA.com’s John Schuhmann pointed out, no player had defended Tatum more this season than Simmons, who guarded the Celtics wing for 24 minutes and 23 seconds over four games, according to data from Second Spectrum.
Tatum shot 5-for-16 with Simmons on him during the regular season.
With approximately six minutes remaining Monday, the Celtics All-Star had hit just 2-of-8 with Thybulle defending.
Thybulle came off the bench to play nearly 33 minutes.
Still, it’s clear Brown wanted to accentuate Joel Embiid and Philadelphia’s size advantage over the need to defend Tatum and Brown on the perimeter, given his decision to start Josh Richardson, Shake Milton and Tobias Harris alongside big men Al Horford and Embiid.
“I think to blow up the starting five in exchange for doing that, I’m not prepared to say that’s what’s going to happen,” Brown said. “I look forward to going back and watching the tape and considering that option. But at the moment, I feel like it’s just something I want to think more about based on what I see on the tape.”
Celtics forward Gordon Hayward should give Brown more to consider, too. Hayward suffered a right ankle injury with 3:08 left to play and didn’t return after contributing 12 points. Brown also took a knee to his right quadriceps from Embiid with 8:12 left in the third quarter but returned to close out the game with 15 points in the fourth quarter.
“I’m in a lot of pain,” he said. “We’ve just got to fight. That’s what it comes down to. Today, we came out, we battled a more physical team and we came out on top. So, I was proud of us. We’ve got to keep that fight up if we want to win this series.”
Same goes for Philadelphia.
But the perimeter prowess of Tatum and Brown, who chipped in 29 points on 9-of-16 from the floor and 5-of-8 from deep, wasn't the only obstacle holding back the Sixers as Boston’s starters scored 101 of its 109 points.
Embiid finished the game with 26 points and 16 rebounds, hitting 5-of-5 for a career-high 11 points in the first quarter, before taking just two shots in the second quarter, as the Celtics went into intermission leading 55-49.
Brett Brown disagreed with the notion that Philadelphia needs to go more to Embiid -- even as Embiid disagreed with Brown's disagreement.
"I've got to do more," Embiid admitted.
Miscues certainly mucked up the effort, too, overshadowing a strong Philadelphia bench performance (outscored Boston’s reserves 23-8), led by Alec Burks' 18 points.
Boston racked up 21 points off 18 Sixers turnovers while besting them on the offensive glass for 16 points. The 76ers even outshot Boston 46.2% to 42.2% from the floor and 33.3% to 32.3% from deep.
Philadelphia is averaging 18 turnovers in its last four postseason outings.
“Part of our turnovers came from getting stood up and trying to post,” Brett Brown said. “Part of our turnovers came when we didn’t post. We weren’t crisp passing out of the post. This is the double-edged sword that you have to figure out what line do you want to walk because the examples that I just gave are true. There’s no doubt we want to get Joel the ball in different floor spots. It doesn’t always have to be bully ball at the nail, where it’s just a fistfight and everything gets stuck in mud. The volume of just smashmouth, bully ball, post-up, to do it all the time, it comes with some level of punishment if you’re not careful.”
Philadelphia found that out the hard way in Game 1.
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