Suffocating Double-Team Drives C's to Win
BOSTON – The Boston Celtics could not find a single man who could contain Jahlil Okafor during their home opener on Wednesday night.
The 6-foot-11 rookie sang to his own tune during the first quarter of his NBA debut. He went 5-of-5 during the first six minutes while pushing his way through the paint with ease.
The 19-year-old's fiery start sent Philly into an early 26-17 lead, but the C’s found their rhythm during the second frame and took off for an eventual 112-95 win.
“We found ourselves in a hole, which probably isn’t all bad in your first game, to see how you respond,” said Stevens.The C's coach paused for emphasis, then added, "We responded."
That initial hole was due to Okafor's play, as Stevens noted by saying, “He played really well and really got it going at the start of the game. [He] put us in a bind and made us make quick decisions.”
One of those decisions was to double-team the rookie. Stevens was surprised they had to perform that tactic so early on, but they could not let the big man continue to muscle his way to the basket with such ease.
The C’s first doubled up on Okafor at the 9:48 mark of the second quarter, when Jonas Jerebko and Amir Johnson trapped him along the baseline.
“We knew that he was a reluctant passer, he didn’t want to give it up,” said Jerebko. “He was feeling it in the beginning and we just wanted to get it out of his hands.”
That’s exactly what he and Johnson accomplished, as they caused Okafor to lose the ball out of bounds.
“I don’t think he’s been trapped like that before,” observed Johnson.
And once the C’s saw their trap work, they went with it for the remainder of the game. They sent all sorts of combos in Okafor’s direction: Jerebko and Johnson, Jerebko and Jae Crowder, Johnson and Jared Sullinger.
Jerebko in particular was effective doubling up on the rookie. His lateral quickness enables him to shoot over to the paint to help pick up a big, and then recover to his man if needed.
“[Jerebko’s] got a high motor,” said Stevens. “He’ll be there on the catch, he’s quick, but he’s one of those guys that if you did the treadmill test on him, he’d run until he fell of. He’s just got a high, high motor and he doesn’t stop.”
Jerebko makes the trap seem like an easy tactic to perform, and even he termed it “a simple job.”
“I’m used to it,” said Jerebko. “As soon as he gets it, you get there and just try to get it out of his hands and make him not split the double-team.”
Okafor struggled to split the double team for the majority of the night, and it showed up in the turnover department. He coughed the rock up a game-high eight times; no one else turned the ball over more than three times.
Meanwhile, the Celtics held him basketless for 26 minutes following that initial trap.
Okafor finished with 26 points as he had another strong quarter with 12 points in the fourth, but at that point the game was out of reach for the 76ers.
The double-team was a sign of well-deserved respect for Okafor’s strong start, but the Celtics taught him a lesson in his first NBA game: double-teams can shut a player down, and it can propel a team to a valuable opening-night win.