Something’s got to change.
In a nutshell, that’s what Joel Embiid frustratingly spewed at reporters Wednesday night following the Sixers’ 128-101 beating as the Celtics grabbed a 2-0 lead in their best-of-7 series. In a game where Jayson Tatum was once again masterful, turning in his second consecutive 30-plus point game (33) of the series on 12-of-20 from the floor, including 8-of-12 from behind the arc, Boston’s double-digit lead ballooned to 20 in the third quarter as Boston eventually tacked on 98 points before the final frame.
It only got uglier from there before Brad Stevens emptied his bench. Embiid, who finished with a game-high 34 points, 10 rebounds, says the Sixers need to make the proper adjustments on the defensive end of the floor in Game 3 to avoid another loss and in the process took a shot at head coach Brett Brown while assessing the team’s strategy in containing Tatum.
“We just got to be aggressive, got to be physical,” Embiid said. “They got a bunch of guys that can put it on the floor and score the ball but you have to pick your poison. Jayson (Tatum) has been killing it so you got to find a way, together, to get the ball out of his hands. I know they want me to stay back on the pick-and-rolls and protect the basket but they’ve just been coming off and making a lot of threes so we have to make adjustments.
“Either we got to come up or we got to scramble all over the place but something’s got to change, it feels too easy,” Embiid said. “They’re just walking into those shots and we got to fix that.”
Sixers Pick-and-Roll Defense
Embiid wasn’t the only player surprised by Brown’s defensive approach.
“It’s different for me,” Walker said of the Sixers’ coverage. “I really haven’t seen that much space in a long, long time, to be honest.”
The loss of Ben Simmons has devastated Philly’s pick-and-roll defense. They’re missing the flexibility of having an elite defender in Simmons who has the foot speed to keep up with the ball-handler, which compliments Embiid’s rim protection so well.
One telling sign of a defense offering up too many open looks or high-percentage attempts is often shooting efficiency, which between the three – Tatum, Walker, and Brown – has been impressive early on. Without Gordon Hayward, all three are shooting over 46% from the floor, including Tatum, who shot at a 54% clip from the floor, including 59% from 3 in his last two games.
Walker poured in 22 points in Game 2 on half of his 16 attempts and Brown, added 20 on 6-of-13.
Embiid says the Sixers need to stop playing to the Celtics’ liking on the defensive end in Game 3 and that if they don’t get out to a better start in the second half, Boston will make them pay.
“We shouldn’t play at their best, we should play at our best – the way we want to play if want to run or if we want to play slow and call plays for different guys,” Embiid said. “I just think we should play at our pace. But at the start of that third-quarter, I just felt like we were just playing at their pace and they were getting in transition and getting easy baskets, and just like that they were up 20.”
Brett Brown Responds
Coach Brown isn’t crazy over the idea of sticking his big men to defend the perimeter more often than protecting the paint and addressed the Sixers’ shortcomings in defending the Celtics’ pick-and-roll.
“I think that you have to be smart about it,” Brown said. “The obvious answer is to bring 7-foot-2 (Embiid) out of the paint and bring 7-foot-2 up so that there’s some level of pressure. The punishment behind it is real; rollers and scramblers and so on. I think if you look at how many baskets they scored out of the pick-and-roll as far as threes go, I think Tatum had three, and I think Kemba had one. They are dangerous in the midrange game; this is true and I feel like in the second half we did do that with some success but it wasn’t enough.”
Philly will look to avoid a 3-0 hole when they take on the Celtics Friday night.