Even though everything went right for Boston and everything went wrong for Philadelphia, characterising the game as a complete aberration is slightly misguided.
That’s not to say a regression to the mean isn’t in order for both teams for the rest of the series.
While the Celtics shot 17-of-35 (48.6 per cent) from long range in the opener, the 76ers managed to hit just 5-of-26 (19.2 per cent). For perspective, Aron Baynes – who hit all of three triples in the regular season – made two, while Terry Rozier bettered Philadelphia’s mark by himself, stroking 7-of-9.
Philadelphia, who averaged the second-most 3-point makes of any team in the first round (11.4) and hit 36.3 per cent, are definitely a better shooting team than this.
But even though an improvement is all but guaranteed, Boston’s defence should continue to make life difficult for the 76ers’ shooters.
Between Rozier, Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Semi Ojeleye and Shane Larkin, the Celtics have long and feisty players capable of fighting through screens and closing the airspace on Philadelphia marksmen J.J. Redick, Robert Covington and Marco Belinelli.
And Boston didn’t even have one of their best defenders in the opener as Jaylen Brown was ruled out with a hamstring strain. Brown is likely to return for Game 2 on Thursday, which should strengthen the Celtics on both ends of the court.
Redick and Belinelli’s impact was also negated by Boston exposing them through mismatches on the offensive end.
Tatum made 76ers coach Brett Brown pay for his decision to start Redick on him as the rookie torched the guard by using his size and quickness. Redick is an above average defender, but he’s more suited to guard players his own size, which is why Brown will likely adjust by moving him onto Smart.
Belinelli, meanwhile, isn’t as solid of a defender as Redick and that was evident when Boston went after him over and over again whenever he was on the floor. If he’s not knocking down 3s with regularity like he was in the Miami series, Belinelli may not see the floor as much due to his defensive liabilities.
The Celtics will be thrilled to score 117 points without Brown in the lineup and in the process uncover sustainable approaches that should continue to benefit them on offence going forward.
But maybe equally as important, they found success in attempting to slow down Ben Simmons.
Despite Philadelphia’s rookie playmaker finishing with a decent line of 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists, he wasn’t nearly as effective as he’s usually been.
By throwing long bodies at him from the start and after switches as well, Boston were able to limit his free runs to the rim and leverage not just his inability to shoot, but his unwillingness to even attempt a jumper, in their favour.
How Simmons would fare without a semblance of a jump shot was a question mark coming into the playoffs, and while he proved he didn’t need it against the Heat, the Celtics are uniquely equipped to handle his size and skillset.
The gulf between the teams isn’t going to be as wide the rest of the series as it was in Game 1, but Boston also present problems for the 76ers that can’t be brushed off.
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