Following the 135-87 demolition of the Sixers, Philadelphia head coach Doc Rivers was honest in his analysis of the game.
“They beat us all night, the beat us off the dribble, got into the paint. And they moved the ball. When you watch Boston play, you can literally see the improvement of their ball movement. The old Boston is more iso’s, this Boston is driving and playing with each other, and that is what makes them so much tougher. I think it makes Tatum and Brown tougher when they play like that. ”
Boston had control of the game from the opening tip and limited the Sixers at every turn, even holding MVP candidate Joel Embiid to 19 points. By mid-way through the third quarter, the game was essentially over, and the Celtics emptied their bench, but the success continued to flow.
While the Celtics offense finally hit a groove after weeks of being hit or miss, it was their defense that once again set the tone, “They switched like they do, they switch everything, and we just stood on the perimeter,” Rivers said.
Celtics Defense Continues to Win Them Games
Since the turn of the year, the Celtics have been the best defensive team in the NBA, holding opponents to an average of 100.4 points per 100 possessions. Boston has participated in 23 games since January 1, winning 17 of them, blowing the Eastern Conference standings wide-open as a result.
Throughout the team’s win streak, there has been a small section of the fanbase pointing to the Celtics’ weakened schedule and noting that whoever they’ve played has had players missing through injury. However, the Celtics have defeated the Denver Nuggets, Sixers, Atlanta Hawks, and Miami Heat in recent weeks. Teams who have been winning the majority of their games despite being without some of their premier talents.
“They were better than us tonight in every way, playing, coaching, and if there’s another category, they were better in that too,” Rivers noted after his team’s mauling.
The Celtics have formed an identity on the defensive end, and now they’re locking in. If Boston can keep that same energy after the All-Star break, they will be a formidable opponent to beat on any given night, and that bodes well for the playoffs later this year.
Marcus Smart Seems to Be OK
The only downside to Boston’s big win against the Sixers was the potentially severe injury Marcus Smart sustained after rolling his ankle. Luckily, it seems that he’s going to be OK, as the Celtics only have him listed as “questionable” heading into their February 16 game against the Detroit Pistons.
With how Smart has been playing recently and his impact on the flow of the offense, losing him for any prolonged period of time would have been a hammer blow to the resurgent Celtics. But, with the All-Star break right around the corner, Smart will have plenty of time to rest his ankle and allow it to heal before the Celtics face the Brooklyn Nets on February 24.
Luckily, Boston will likely only be without Smart for their contest against the Pistons, which means they should manage without him in the short term. But, we’re sure to get a couple of reminders as to why he’s so crucial to the team’s chances of future success during that contest.
In Smart’s absence, we will get a closer look at new addition Derrick White and sophomore guard Payton Pritchard, at the point guard spot.