Terry Rozier (much more clutch than his pal Drew Bledsoe) hit 7 of 9 from deep. Al Horford made 10 of 12 (mostly from the paint) because cutting without the ball is useful. Ben Simmons was bottled up and effectively harassed by swarming Boston defenders, especially Al Horford. The Philadelphia 76ers played defense like it was 2014 and they were still tanking.
Of these above statements, none is likely to be true (at the same time) again during this best-of-seven series…but as a Celtics fan…I’m very happy they were true for Game 1.
The Garden was as raucous as usual. Home court (crowd, confidence, and refs) certainly helps the Celtics when it comes to playoff defense. This is Simmons’ first go-round. This is why the Celtics drafted Semi Ojeleye and why they’ve been such a resilient team. Their defense never rests, and never lets the opponent rest. The crowd didn’t bother Embiid as much as the mask he is forced to wear.
After Philadelphia dispatched the Miami Heat in Game 5, they’ve waited nearly a week to play again. A six-day layoff would be significant for any group. For a team with only one savvy playoff veteran, the layoff was catastrophic. Other than Embiid on the block (which Stevens is clearly going to give away until Aron Baynes fouls out of Games 3 and 4), the Sixers were stifled by the Celtics’ masterful perimeter defensive rotations and close-outs. The Sixers, like all good offenses, thrive on transition and openings created by late rotations due to stellar passing and player movement. Boston’s defenders are great at defending this. Hence…Embiid on the block…defended by two of the more versatile defensive bigs in the game…Al Horford…and the beefy yet nimble Aron Baynes (whose defensive metrics are especially insane this year).
What was unexpected was the combined 83 points by Terry Rozier (29), Jayson Tatum (28 points and 11 of 12 free-throw attempts — a season high), and Al Horford (26 on 12 attempts). SuperTerry simply wouldn’t miss from beyond the arc.
Philadelphia’s defense was slow, sloppy and stunned. I suspect 117 points will be the high total for either team throughout this series (unless we get a double OT thriller).
This Celtics team continues to adapt in ways that are both unexpected and seem unsustainable, but why not enjoy it? The likeliest outcomes of the series, even after Game 1, are Sixers winning in 6 or Sixers winning in 7. The Celtics win dropped the Sixers odds from 81.5% to 67.7%.
Strangers things have happened. Game 1 is in the books. Game 2 becomes very intriguing.