A Look At What The Celtics Should Expect To See In Tonight's Massive Game 3
Over the course of a playoff series, depending on how things shake out, there are some pretty big "momentum swing" games as I like to call them. They may not win a series, but they can absolutely shift the entire dynamic of one. While every game is its own battle and every game is important, not all games are created equal so to speak.
Tonight's Game 3 in Philly is one of those "momentum swing" opportunities. With both sides tied 1-1, the team that won Game 3 has gone on to win the series 74% of the time. Soooo yeah, tonight is pretty massive. From a momentum standpoint, if Philly wins, they put a potential 3-1 series lead on the table. If the Celts win, not only do they steal back homecourt for the series, but 3-1 then becomes a possibility for them as the Sixers will then have the same amount of massive pressure the Celts did in Game 2 after blowing the opener.
That's both the beauty and the curse of these types of momentum games. You either set yourself up nicely, or things get real dicey real quick.
As to what we can expect, there are a few things I'll be looking to see in this all important Game 3.
1. The defensive physicality
Both fanbases said the exact same thing when everyone saw this tweet
Any time theres a massive game and you see Scott Foster get the nod, both sides immediately think they're fucked. That should tell the league everything they need to know about why there's maybe an issue there. That doesn't just happen out of thin air.
Why I care about this from a Celtics perspective isn't Joel Embiid living at the line or anything like that. I think most rational people expect him to get those MVP whistles at home on the night he's getting the trophy. In the first game these two teams played in Philly, Embiid took 18 FTA while the Sixers won that battle 35-12. The Celts won the game, and Scott Foster was not involved. In the second meeting, things were tied 16-16 in a 2 point Sixers win, and Foster wasn't involved in that one either.
What I'm interested to see is how Jaylen Brown is officiated when it comes to James Harden. We saw in Game 2 after not getting those foul-baiting drive calls all playoffs, Harden was rewarded on several occasions. In terms of the Jaylen Brown vs James Harden matchup, there was just 1 shooting foul called in their 25 possessions against each other. The way Jaylen was able to be physical with Harden with his ball pressure at the point of attack was a huge reason why the Celtics defense was so effective.
How that physicality is called in Game 3 is going to be huge. A game where Jaylen picks up 2 quick fouls is going to have a massive impact. It wouldn't shock me if Harden brings his grifting A game, because it was pretty clear he struggled with Jaylen's strength, quickness, and length. You remove that element, and it opens things up for Harden and the Sixers offense.
2. PJ Tucker is going to actually shoot corner 3s
One of the clearest adjustments Joe made defensively in Game 2 was the fact that when Harden or Embiid had the ball, the entire roster completely ignored PJ Tucker in order to be in the paint so they could be ready to help. The fact that PJ Tucker didn't even consider shooting that corner three made the Sixers much easier to guard. The Celts repeatedly broke what many consider the cardinal rule when guarding in the NBA, and even helped off a strong side shooter. They did that because they were cool with PJ Tucker shooting…and he just never did.
The most obvious adjustment for the Sixers is to have PJ Tucker actually take those corner 3PA. On the season, Tucker shot 43.8% from the corners at home. Not only that, his taking that exact shot is how the Sixers won their only meeting against the Celtics during the regular season
After what happened in the first two games when it comes to Tucker and his reluctance to shoot open corner 3PA, I cannot imagine that continues tonight, especially on his home floor.
Whether he makes them or not is another story, but how the Celts adjust if he actually becomes a willing shooter to the point where he's taking between 2-5 3PA is going to play a big role in how things shake out.
3. Doubling Joel Embiid
We saw this a few times in Game 2, but not nearly as often as we've seen in previous matchups. I expect to see a much better Embiid now that he actually had some floor time, and that means the Celts are going to have to make a choice. As we saw in the Nets series, when they decided to double Embiid it was pretty much a death sentence whether the result was leaving the Sixers shooters open, or allowing Tyrese Maxey to attack the scramble and get to the rim with ease.
In terms of when the Celts should double, I really only think you need to do it when Embiid is in the post. The Nets kept sending doubles even when Embiid was nowhere near the paint, and it burned them.
This is also where the physicality will come into play. The Celts are going to have to find ways to manage their defense without help and without fouling, or at the very least do not become predictable when and where the double is coming from.
I know the Sixers were a disaster from deep in Game 2, but you're crazy if you think that continues. They were the #1 three point shooting team in the regular season and are shooting 41% from three at home during these playoffs.
Interestingly enough, the Celts are shooting 42.3% on the road these playoffs. Something's gonna give.
In terms of what the Celts have to do in order to win this game, the formula remains unchanged. It really doesn't matter who the opponent is, everything for this team comes down to the same things
1. Play defense and guard the three point line
2. Take care of the basketball
When the Celts didn't do any of those things in Game 1, they lost. When they did all three of those things in Game 2, they blew the doors off the Sixers. When playing Philly, you have to limit possessions. You can't give up OREBs which lead to dagger threes which gets the crowd engaged. You can't turn the ball over and give up fastbreak points because that's how Maxey gets going and then suddenly he becomes a big time offensive problem.
If the Celts are going to win this series, they're going to have to win on the road. You can thank choking Game 1 for that. Whoever finds a way to be the first team to win 2 in a row most likely wins the series, and tonight is the Celts chance. Let's hope they understand what's at stake and they come locked in, because you can bet your ass the Sixers will be.