The Philadelphia 76ers dropped Game One of their first-round series against the Boston Celtics, 109-101, on Monday night. The 76ers fought hard, but in the end turnovers and a lack of consistent rebounding doomed them. Jayson Tatum, despite being guarded by a flurry of different defenders throughout the game, finished with 32 points and 13 rebounds to lead the Celtics past Philadelphia in game one.
The 76ers get a chance to even up the series on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m.
Here are some observations from the loss:
1. Turnovers highlight lack of offensive consistency
From the opening tip to the end of the game, the 76ers struggled to maintain offensive consistency mostly due to committing a lot of turnovers and failing to consistently get the ball deep in the post. Feeding Joel Embiid the ball on a consistent basis needed to be a priority for the 76ers throughout the game. They executed early, resulting in Embiid finishing the first quarter with 11 points on a perfect 5-of-5 shooting. However, that did not come without a few bumps in the road. Embiid committed three turnovers in the first quarter as Boston threw a bunch of different looks at him defensively.
The 76ers, as a team, struggled to control the ball in the first half. They committed 13 first-half turnovers, with many of them coming on attempted entry passes into the post. Boston is equipped with a group of talented, pesky wing defenders (Jaylen Brown and Marcus Smart just to name a few) who have the ability to harass and get into the passing lanes. Gordon Hayward led Boston with four steals, followed by Jaylen Brown with three and Marcus Smart with two.
Philadelphia adjusted in the second half, committing only five turnovers and regaining momentum midway through the third quarter. Shake Milton and Tobias Harris helped the Sixers go on a 13-0 run to retake the lead, 79-75, going into the final quarter of action. Milton hit a pair of threes in the quarter, and he finished the game with 13 points on 3-for-5 shooting from deep. However, Boston's pesky defense would come back to haunt Philadelphia in the final quarter of action, where they held them to just 22 points.
Boston did a good job making adjustments after the first quarter to help negate the 76ers' size advantage in the post. They sent more double teams, increased their physicality and attempted to deny the entry passes into the post, all of which resulted in it becoming more difficult for the Sixers to get the ball into the post.
The early turnovers, combined with Boston's defensive adjustments, seemingly led to a switch of priorities for the 76ers offense. After finding success feeding Embiid the ball in the post in the first quarter, the big man took only two shots in the second quarter. The 76ers took more threes in the second half, at least partially due to their struggles to consistently get the ball into the post. Embiid, outside of the first quarter, shot just 3-for-10 from the field. However, he did still finish with 26 points and 16 rebounds while doing a good job of getting to the free-throw line (12 attempts). Overall, the 76ers need to game plan and make adjustments in order to more consistently work out of the post in the remainder of the series.
2. 76ers, without Simmons, struggle to defend Boston's lineup
One common theme throughout this series will be the 76ers attempting to find a way to defend Boston without Ben Simmons, their best wing defender. Brett Brown opened up the game having Josh Richardson matched up with Jayson Tatum and Al Horford matched up on Jaylen Brown.
Horford did an alright job defending Brown in the four regular-season matchups between the two teams, but on Monday Horford struggled mightily. Brown came hot out of the gate, scoring 10 points in the first quarter. It was clear after the first quarter, when Brown proved he was able to hit his outside shots, that the Horford-Brown matchup would be a problem. When Brown is hitting his outside shots, he will be able to stretch out the 76ers defense, whether it is Horford or Embiid attempting to guard him. Brown finished the game with 29 points while making five of his nine 3-point attempts.
The 76ers' main defensive struggle in game one was figuring out how to defend Jayson Tatum, who led all scorers with 32 points. Richardson opened up the game with the difficult defensive assignment. Tatum, who holds a three-inch size advantage over Richardson, was able to outmuscle Richardson on drives to the rim. Tobias Harris had his shot at guarding Tatum as well, but he is not physical enough to match up with Tatum.
The one player who had any semblance of success guarding Tatum was rookie Matisse Thybulle. The rookie did a good job harassing and making things difficult for Tatum outside of a second-quarter run when Tatum got hot and scored 15 points. Brown, on Sunday, said he was contemplating adding Thybulle to the starting lineup, and after Game One it certainly looks like it would benefit the 76ers to start Thybulle, match him up with Tatum and then be able to have Richardson match up against either Kemba Walker or Jaylen Brown.
In the 2018 playoff series between Boston and Philadelphia, Boston's head coach Brad Stevens was ahead of Brown at every step of the way. Brown waited until Game Four to make any major adjustments, which proved to be too little too late. Will Brown get ahead of the curve this time around and move Thybulle to the starting lineup? Stay tuned to find out.
3. Secondary scoring provides positives and negatives
The 76ers will need more than just a strong effort from Joel Embiid to be able to win their first-round series against Boston. Game One provided a mixed bag when it came to the 76ers' secondary scorers. Josh Richardson, after getting off to a slow start, finished with 18 points, including a couple key threes in the second half, to go with six rebounds. Alec Burks, in 27 minutes off the bench, poured in 18 points and six rebounds. Shake Milton added an efficient 13 points while Tobias Harris finished with 15 points, eight rebounds and eight assists.
It was overall a rough night for Al Horford, who finished with six points and struggled to guard Brown on the defensive side of the court. Harris flashed his scoring prowess at times, but he failed to show up in the fourth quarter and could not hit any of his outside shots (0-for-3 from 3-point range). The 76ers simply will have to get more from their secondary scorers if they are to have a chance at making it through this first-round series against the Celtics.