Things could’ve been worse for the Celtics if Al Horford played. Things could’ve been better if Marcus Smart was available. Still, without those two, the Sixers — even more so than the Pacers — revealed issues for the Celtics on Thursday.
First, Joel Embiid made clear containing him will be a much tougher task than it’s been in years past.
Enes Kanter and Daniel Theis stepped up, no question. Not having Robert Williams, or Smart, absolutely made life tougher for both of them in the paint.
Though, it’s hard to imagine any of those four could’ve stopped Embiid. He flat out had his way on Thursday. On separate occasions, he backed Kanter and Theis down like he was facing a middle schooler.
Yes, Kanter was better on the defensive end than he usually is. He made some very good plays. But Embiid was 12-for-21 from the floor (2-for-3 from three). More importantly, he shot 55.6% from inside the arc, which is quite a bit better than his average entering Thursday (50.4%).
And he took advantage of his opportunities at the free-throw line (12-for-14).
Point is, Embiid can win the Sixers games. That’s a problem for the Celtics who don’t have an answer for him on the defensive end.
On the offensive end, as good as Kemba Walker was in the first half (7-for-13, 4-for-8 from three), the Sixers locked him down in the second half (1-for-8, 1-for-5 from three).
“They kind of just stepped off the pick-and-rolls and played a bit more aggressive, I guess,” Walker said. “When you have it rolling, of course, teams are going to make adjustments and try to make it tougher on me. They did. They did a pretty good job in the second half.
“Sometimes it can be tough. Those guys can get to the shot and contest it or even get blocks like (Matisse) Thybulle did, one time. But, you know, it’s just all about me getting to my spots and getting a shot off and making them. … That’s pretty much what everyone is going to do with me, put bigger defenders on me. I just have to adjust sometimes and make shots.”
Of course, some of Walker’s struggles are on him, but the other Celtics have to help — like Theis and Kanter did — when opponents put an emphasis on stopping him.
That’s not supposed to fall on the bigs, though. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Gordon Hayward. Those are the guys who need to make up for Walker.
Tatum had some big shots, but 5-for-18 isn’t going to cut it.
Brown had a rough night, as well (3-for-9, eight points). He disappeared in a big game against a team of versatile defenders. This one should be an eye-opener for him.
Hayward went 3-for-3 in the third quarter and 2-for-5 in the fourth. His primary issue always seems to be his willingness to shoot. Tatum went 0-for-7 in the third. Hayward did not miss, and he only got three shots up — and Tatum only played 1:50 longer than Hayward in the quarter.
After the game, Hayward pointed out that back-cuts were an issue for the Celtics throughout the night.
“I think some of that’s just an experience thing of playing with each other,” Hayward said. “Being able to read that on the fly. That should be a look at one of us — when it happens, one time and they take it away, as far pushing us out, the next time down that should be a look at each other and, ‘All right, we got this.’ I mean, this is a back-cut, it’s easy.
“We’ll be, hopefully, more prepared for that next time. But, like I said, some of that’s just playing with each other and knowing and being able to read the game. If they’re overplaying like that, immediately there should be a counter. So, we have to be better with that.”
Walker feels the Celtics, in general, “have a lot of lapses” where things look “really bad.”
Again, Kanter looked much better on defense. He was an animal on the glass (nine rebounds in 24 minutes). He also scored an efficient 20 points (10-for-13 shooting). Theis (7-for-11) stepped up, too.
Walker had his way with the Sixers in the first half.