Latest Bout With Boston Offers Learning Lessons

by Brian Seltzer
Sixers.com Reporter

There would be no overreacting to a February 12th meeting with the Boston Celtics, Brett Brown said in advance of Tuesday’s game, regardless of the build up surrounding it, or the eventual result.

The head coach made clear he saw the anticipated match-up for what it was. Yes, the contest came against a chief rival - last year’s playoff ouster - and carried possible implications for this year’s postseason as well.

At the same time, Brown wanted his players to view Tuesday’s game as...a regular mid-season Tuesday game. No more, no less.

Most of all, the 76ers’ third go-around versus Boston, according to Brown, represented the latest chance to learn more about his own team, and, on the flip side, the Celtics. He stuck to that theme afterwards, despite another tough, narrow defeat to the Sixers’ chief rival.

These were among Brown’s biggest takeaways:

BOSTON’S PHYSICALITY

If you were to believe NBA Twitter, the roof had already caved in on the Boston Celtics, which took the floor Tuesday having suffered a modest two losses in a row.

Maybe it was part frustration that accumulated from recent games, or being on extra alert in the absence of All-Star point guard Kyrie Irving, but Boston went at the Sixers with a notable edge on both ends of the court.

“There’s a physicality that you have to play with to beat them,” Brown said. “You’re reminded of that.”

It was a significant subplot to the teams’ 2018 second-round playoff series, and resurfaced Tuesday.

MANAGING MISMATCHES

There was Al Horford, again proving to be a tricky pick-and-pop threat, en route to finishing with 23 points, eight rebounds, five assists, and four steals.

As has been the case the past two seasons, Marcus Morris had success against the Sixers. He was pivotal to Boston’s strong start, notching eight of his 17 points in Tuesday’s opening frame.

Gordon Hayward found and capitalized on open 3-point looks.

Jayson Tatum, with his impressive combination of skill and athleticism, made for a difficult cover.

The Sixers later acknowledged that certain situations in Tuesday’s game presented problems. They vowed to be better for it the next time around.  

“I mean the way Boston plays is they attack the mismatch, and you saw it every time,” said Ben Simmons. “Pick-and-rolls, if there’s a small guy you’re going to throw in the post whoever’s guarding that guy. The way they play they have so many assets and weapons to where they’re able to do that.”

TOVs AND THREES

Boston ranks among the NBA’s best in limiting turnovers, creating turnovers, turnover differential, and making threes.

All four of those factors loomed critical to Tuesday’s outcome. The Celtics were minus-8 in giveaways (6 vs 14), and sunk 13 3-pointers, four more than the Sixers did.

“I think when you really study the Celtics, what they do a good job of is they turn you over,” said Brown. “We ended up with 14 for the game, which isn’t bad; 10 in the first half which was bad. And, they make threes. I think you have to be careful if you overreact to that type of environment as much as you do at times have to guard it better.”

So far this season, Boston ranks third in turnovers forced (13.0 / 100 possessions), seventh in turnovers generated (15.7 / 100 possessions), second in turnover differential (-2.4 / game), second in 3-pointers (745 total), and are tied for fifth in 3-point efficiency (37.1 3fg%). 

Were the Sixers hoping Tuesday had gone another way? Of course.

By keeping a pragmatic perspective, however, they believe their hardships will ultimately pay off.

“You know you want to win every game, but at the same time, you know this is a new team,” said Simmons, referring to the Sixers’ recent roster additions. “There are things we’re going to work on, things we need to get better at, but it’s a good test for us to see where we’re at with this new team. But I’m excited with everyone we have and to see how far we can go.”

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