BOSTON – Much of the talk after Boston’s Game 1 victory over the 76ers will revolve around how the Celtics limited Philadelphia to 5-for-26 shooting from long range. What may be more important, however, were the 3-pointers that Philadelphia never attempted.
Limiting Philadelphia’s clean 3-point attempts, and in particular those by sharpshooters J.J. Redick and Marco Belinelli, was just as important to Boston’s game plan as containing Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons. The C’s simply couldn’t afford to let those shooters get going and open up the court for the Sixers’ well-known stars.
“It was pretty high on the list,” said Shane Larkin, who served as one spoke of a four-defender wheel that chased Redick and Belinelli around. “You never want a shooter to get going, especially a shooter like [Redick], top-five in the league. So really, you’ve got to focus in on that, make it of high importance.”
It didn’t take long for the Sixers to realize that one of Boston’s top goals was to protect the 3-point line.
Philadelphia entered the game having averaged 31.4 3-point attempts per game during the postseason. Redick and Belinelli combined to average 13.4 attempts per game.
During the first half of Game 1, the duo managed to attempt only five combined 3-pointers, making two. By the end of the night, they had shot just 3-for-9 from long range – 1.4 fewer makes and 4.4 fewer attempts than their postseason average.
The key to Boston containing the Sixers sharpshooters was its aggressiveness in jumping screens. The quartet of Larkin, Terry Rozier, Marcus Smart and Jayson Tatum doubled as Redick’s and Belinelli’s shadows throughout the contest. Philadelphia’s shooters couldn’t escape them.
Larkin explained after the game what his group’s mindset was as it attempted to chase Redick and Belinelli around.
“Just staying attached,” he said. “Those guys are always moving, they’re always active, they’re always cutting. You’ve just kind’ve got to stay attached to them, try to play physical and try to blow up those screens and just try to make it hard for them to get open looks.”
Larkin and Smart, in particular, showcased an elite ability to jump screens and render those picks as useless. Their body position was consistently perfect.
It was not a surprise that Larkin and Smart, or Rozier for that matter, remained in the air space of Philadelphia’s shooters. It was a surprise, however, that Tatum was able to do so.
This was a unique assignment for the 6-foot-8 rookie. Larkin, Smart, Rozier and Jaylen Brown typically make up Boston’s foursome that is tasked with chasing opposing guards around the court. But with Brown missing Game 1 due to a strained right hamstring, Tatum oftentimes shifted over a position defensively Monday night.
Tatum stepped up to the challenge, chased Redick and Belinelli around, and finished the game with the best defensive rating of any player who logged more than 22 minutes of action.
“It’s very unique,” Tatum said of his defensive assignment Monday night, “especially with their guards. Belinelli, Redick, they’re constantly moving. You can’t relax for half a second, because they’ll get a look. It was tough.”
But Tatum and the crew made it look easy, all thanks to their effort and their attention to detail.
The Celtics not only limited Philadelphia’s efficiency from long range, they also limited Philadelphia’s ability to even utilize the 3-point line.
Just how they drew it up during their single off day before tip-off.