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The Sixers’ Dream Postseason Turns Into a Nightmare in Boston

A Celtics team playing without Jaylen Brown (and, yes, Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward) shut down Philly’s machine in a Game 1 rout, raising early doubts about that easy path to the NBA Finals

NBA: Playoffs-Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Boston served Philadelphia its second loss in its past 22 games, winning Game 1 of the teams’ second-round series, 117-101. Here are three takeaways from an unexpectedly lopsided opening game:

The Celtics’ Game Plan Worked … but Is It Sustainable?

Terry Rozier is giving the Celtics something to believe in. What’s more endearing than a 6-foot-2 guard as fearless in a mob of rebounding bigs as he is pissing off a league veteran?

The opening game of the series was the Scariest Terry (in a good way) we’ve seen yet. (The bad Scary Terry went 5-for-19 in games 3 and 4 against the Bucks.) Rozier accounted for seven of the Celtics’ 17 makes from deep, two more than all of the Sixers combined. He made Robert Covington look like Robert from sales in your company basketball league.

Covington wasn’t the only Sixer who suddenly looked average on defense: Boston’s 17 triples were tied for the fourth-most 3s in a postseason game in franchise history. All eight players Brad Stevens used for more than two minutes had at least one make. Even Marcus Smart, who previously had not hit a single 3-pointer since returning from a thumb injury to his shooting hand, made two from distance. (To be fair, Smart was given more space on both shots than Ben Simmons usually gets.)

Meanwhile, Philadelphia was stifled on the perimeter. The same team that had the fourth-most efficient 3-point shooting performance in NBA playoff history last series against the Heat was held to five makes on 26 attempts. Some of that could be because of an off-night—since signing Ersan Ilyasova, the Sixers have shot 38 percent from 3—but Boston may have found something with its defensive game plan. Stevens can always be counted on to play chess on both ends of the floor, and in Game 1, the Celtics executed that game plan flawlessly on offense. Like last series, however, their roster of mostly role players (down Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Jaylen Brown) may regress to the mean. Multiple aberrations happened in Game 1: Rozier, who averaged only five attempts from 3 a game this season, finished with seven 3s and two turnovers. Al Horford scored 26 points, which ties his high from the last round. Boston plugged the perimeter as Philly tied its lowest point total in the past 22 games. The Sixers’ shooting, on the other hand, is quite literally a toss-up.

Um, Maybe Don’t Put J.J. Redick on Jayson Tatum

It took less than a half to realize Redick couldn’t hang with Tatum. But it did nail the point home when, with 1:27 left in the second quarter, Tatum duped Redick with a backdoor cut for an easy dunk:

Sixers coach Brett Brown kept Redick on the rookie coming out of the break. The apparent reasoning: to let Ben Simmons roam. But it didn’t matter what Simmons was up to, as Tatum continued to take advantage, also blowing by Marco Belinelli when that poor sucker was guarding him. Tatum finished with 28 points on 50 percent shooting. Brown didn’t give up on the plan after a half, but it’s hard to imagine he won’t after the loss. There’s chess, there’s checkers, and then there’s tic-tac-toe.

Embiid Eats, for Better or Worse

Speaking of weird matchups: One that should’ve ended in Philadelphia’s favor was Joel Embiid on Aron Baynes. Predictably, Embiid was drawn out of the lane when he was forced onto Al Horford, which was as uncomfortable a situation for him as wearing that mask. When Embiid didn’t make the switch, Horford drew ridiculous mismatches that he was able to exploit.

The real surprise was Baynes shooting his shot outside. (I choose to believe this was something Stevens and he worked on all season and kept hidden until now.) Baynes took three 3s—the same amount he’d made all season—and connected on two of them. That’s more than Ilyasova, Covington, and Dario Saric had combined (which was zero).

Baynes also was able to throw off the Sixers’ offense by luring Embiid into the paint. Embiid, as unicorns do, typically hangs around the perimeter like he’s Simmons’s 2-guard. But he went to work several times on Baynes in the post. While successful—Embiid had a game-high 31 points—going isolation took the rest of the Sixers out of their rhythm.