Sixers vs Celtics Series Observations
As the confetti prematurely came down from the rafters at the end of regulation at the Wells Fargo center on Saturday evening, I turned and looked to Dei Lynam, who was sitting next to me and said - overtime isn't good.
The Sixers played sloppy, they played ugly, and simply put didn't play well enough to win, and there was nothing to suggest that adding another five minutes of play would help them figure it all out on the fly.
At this point of their progression, the Celtics are a better team, better coached and better prepared, almost like they've been here before - imagine that.
"Boston is a great team, Ben Simmons admitted after the loss. "They've been there before. They've been in a situation where they're close to the next round. We want to get there too. Obviously, it's going to take a lot, but we’re up for the challenge.
The NBA playoffs are a different animal and the Sixers young stars are finding that out. The intensity that comes in each possession of a postseason game can't be rivaled on a Tuesday night in Memphis.
And while youth isn't an excuse, experience certainly can be.
The Sixers core has never seen the intensity that the Celtics are bringing to the table on virtually every possession, on both ends of the floor, and so far they've been unable to match it.
"The last thing I want to do is lean on youth, I don’t want to do that," Sixers coach Brett Brown said. "I give credit to the Boston Celtics, they played in the Eastern Conference championship last year, with a handful of the players they have. We are navigating through this, this isn’t an entirely youthful thing at all."
Sure Boston has young stars, but Al Horford, Jaylen Brown, Marcus Smart and company have been here before. So while Jayson Tatum might be a rookie, he isn't facing a team that has matched his veterans level of intensity.
"This is some of the match-ups that have hurt us, I respect their positional defensive athleticism, and switchable people," Brown continued.
"That’s the story, I definitely do not think it’s the youth. I think when the lights go out, like I will think in many ways, Joel is going to learn a lot, Ben Simmons is going to learn a lot, but there is some truth to that now. There is a lot of truth to that."
People have been quick to go after Sixers coach Brett Brown, but are quick to forget Brad Stevens was swept away in his first playoff series and knocked out in the first round in during his second taste of the postseason. Last season his No. 1 seeded Celtics were bounced in five game in the conference finals after a 53-win regular season.
Has Brown been good in this series? Hardly, but he is far from the top issue that his flawed roster is facing, which would be lack of experience. The guys the Sixers leaned on the most all season long, have the least amount of playoff experience.
That's just one of the many issues we are seeing, as the playoffs using brings your warts into focus.
1. Joel Embiid
A dominate force throughout much of the regular season, he should be one of the top young star in the game, without question. However, in this series, the Celtics are using single coverage from Aaron Baynes and Al Horfrd, no double teams, and he hasn't been able to take advantage of that.
"For me, you recognize that Aron Baynes and Al Horford do a really good job on him," Sixes coach Brett Brown said after the game. 'So finding ways to get him better touches is more on my mind than the frequency of it."
26 shot attempts, and just three free throws, is almost unthinkable.
"I don’t see how it’s possible for someone to guard me, and have zero fouls," Embiid said.
"A couple plays it wasn’t fair, but you have to give Al (Horford) a lot of credit. He competed some plays for his team, and got them the win. I’m too big, but I guess it’s the playoffs, I’m learning, but I am too big to not be fouled when I go to the basket."
Embiid has been content on shoot the ball from 10-12 feet away, but sometimes we forget that he is far from a finished product, and that means getting yourself to the line to help slow the pace and change the momentum.
At this point of his young career, Embiid is not ready to carry a team on his back, offensively, that is something that we all anticipate will come with more experience.
2. Ben Simmons
Where do we start.
The narrative throughout most of the season was, wow this guy is amazing, but just think how good he will be when he gets a jump-shot.
The Celtics are showing for Simmons to be an elite NBA player, he must evolve his offensive game in 2018-2019. Can the Sixers till win with him being the player he is at 21-years old? Of course, but to take it to the next level, he needs to evolve his game.
The Sixers need him to take that step if they want to be a title contender and not just a fun, exciting 55-60 win team down the road.
In the late part of games, when defense gets tighter, the Sixers need his ball-handling, and decision-making. When push comes to shove late in these playoff games, Boston pressure is causing the Sixers tons of problems because they don't have enough ball-handling.
Simmons was better in game three, he showed some aggression at times, but he still wasn't the same player he was for most of the regular season.
For the Sixers to take that next step, they need Simmons to learn and grow from this experience in the playoffs.
3. Offense / Defense Issues
Probably the most puzzling thing in this series has been the lack of defense in the series.
The offense has warts, that we knew. They are a very one dimensional group of players. They lack a slashing, take the ball to the basket type of player and got to this point essentially by being a 3-point shooting team with a twist of Joel Embiid.
People keep asking why was the final in-bounds play for Embiid out by the three-point line? He is the one guy on the team that can create off the dribble, with Ben Simmons in-bounding the ball because they don't want him getting fouled.
People have asked for Brown to make adjustments on the offensive side of the ball, he simply doesn't have the personnel to make many changes with the current roster.
However, the calling card for this team has been their defense, which has disappointed this playoff round.
Guys look lost, lack of communication is hurting them and in a styles make fights world, the Celtics present some match-up issues for this Sixers team. To me, the Sixers defense has let them down in this series, as poorly as they have played on offense, they have been in virtually every game, but if their defense was at the same level they played all season, they probably have at least a win in the series.
I have had a ton of tweets asking about Markelle Fultz, the Sixers usage of him tells you all you need to know - he's not ready.
His skill set is exactly what this team is missing and might provide the Sixers a scoring option they currently need and don't have. However, by not using him in this series the Sixers are telling you he is not ready for this level of intensity of missing 68 games this season.
To put him in this situation, simply isn't fair to the kid.
The small sample size we saw from Fultz over the final three weeks of the season, wasn't enough to give Brown trust to use him in a bigger role in the Miami series. When called upon in the Miami series, he wa a deer in the headlight as the intensity level went up a notch.
We haven't seen him since.
I like Fultz as much as the next guy, but I simply don't think he is ready for this level of play. Ben Simmons is struggling with the intensity of the defense in this round and he had one of the more memorable rookie seasons in recent memory, what would that mean for Fultz?
A lot of people are going after the coach, which is predictable.
He simply hasn't had a very good series.
We can all sit here and second guess his decisions, not calling timeouts, not sticking with T.J.McConnell, lack of adjustments, etc.
Over the course of an 82 game regular season, you have ups and downs. You try things, but nothing can duplicate the level of play in the playoffs and he too is getting a taste of that right now. On a Tuesday Night in January, he might want his team to play through certain situations and they just might do it. However, that doesn't mean that will translate to the playoffs.
Experience matters and he like the rest of this team should learn from this experience.