It was a night for Boston’s veterans as two teams with ambitions to dominate the Eastern Conference for the next decade squared off. The Celtics were on the edge of a comfortable lead for most of the game, winning it 108-97, but Philadelphia made a few pushes and stayed within hailing distance. The Celtics move out to a league best 19-4 while the Sixers dropped to 12-9. Both teams would have signed for that before the season started.
- Kyrie Irving has probably surpassed Al Horford as the best Celtic this season. He had 36 points tonight on 27 possessions. He continues a general trend towards more of a scoring guard role. He can still play as a traditional PG, as he did some against Detroit when they pressured him, but more of those duties are starting to fall to other players. That’s similar to how Isaiah Thomas was used last season, and we’re seeing Kyrie’s scoring outputs rise like IT’s did.
- While Kyrie has been asserting himself, Al Horford played his best game in a few weeks with 21/8/5 and solid defense against a variety of assignments. When Irving and Horford play this well Boston is just hard to beat. Philly shot 50% from 3PT and won the rebounding battle but still lost by double-digits because of how the C’s two leaders were able to keep them at arm’s length on the scoreboard.
- The third of the Celtics’ veterans to play well tonight was Marcus Morris. He scored 17 points on 6-11 shooting plus 5 FTs, but I thought the most impressive part of his play was his defense on Ben Simmons. Morris has a good history of defending LeBron James (as much as anyone can, at least) and when you spotlight his play against Simmons you get an indications of why. He’s not the quickest wing but against strong, skilled playmakers who want to get into the paint Morris can use his strength to give a cushion but not get trucked when the opponent gains momentum.
- The flip-side was that Jaylen Brown had a rough night. He just seemed kind of out of it, missing his jumpers badly and turning the ball over four times. That’s two straight single-digit scoring nights after eight consecutive double-digit games. Brad Stevens went to Morris and Ojeleye to close the fourth quarter instead of Brown.
- Jayson Tatum had another Jayson Tatum night, looking to fit in for most of the night but still getting to 15 points. His biggest shot was probably when he isolated on Amir Johnson and blew by him, but he also cashed in a few late buckets when the game wasn’t 100% over yet. His clutch shooting has been amazing.
- Boston started very sloppy with 10 turnovers in just over 14 minutes. They cleaned that up and only committed six more over the final 34 minutes.
- As seems to often be the case, Marcus Smart led the team in plus-minus. Stevens also called out Terry Rozier in his post-game comments for a rebound he took away from two 76ers bigs at a moment where the game had started to move in their direction.
- Aron Baynes started but Daniel Theis got more minutes in the second half. The German rookie not only collected 8 rebounds and 3 blocks in just 14 minutes, but kept multiple possessions alive where he wasn’t credited with the board.
- It would have been nice to see Joel Embiid tonight. Philly had a choice of playing him yesterday against the John Wall-less Wizards or tonight against the Celtics. I guess they got the split they were playing for, which is fair on a back-to-back, and the win against a team they’ll possibly be fighting for playoff position. Still, after the Celtics held him to 4-16 in their earlier meeting it would have been interesting to see the rematch.
- The Celtics are a tough match-up for Ben Simmons at this point. With so many options to throw at him, they can just make him work very hard. If he ever develops a jump shot this will change, but right now the C’s feel relatively comfortable with Horford, Morris, Brown, Tatum, Ojeleye, or Smart on him because of how all can give space and then cut off the dribble or contest at the rim. Personally, I think Simmons is a better prospect than Embiid, possibly even without factoring health (it’s close).
- When J.J. Redick gets hot it’s scary, but in total he scored only 17 points on 17 possessions. When he and Bob Covington both struggle and Embiid is out, a defense can really collapse the paint against this team. That’s what happened quite a bit in the first half before Redick stretched them out with a flurry to start the second.
- It was nice to see Amir Johnson on the parquet but Richaun Holmes should probably be playing ahead of him.
These two teams are going to face off in some late round playoff series in the not too distant future. They’re two of the youngest teams in the NBA with very similar age profiles who also happen to share two of the best 3rd party owned draft picks in the league. The Boston-Philadelphia history is a fun one; I’m glad that they’ve rejoined the NBA.
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