The Algebra of Savvy: Celts out-execute Sixers, take commanding lead
One of the first lessons taught to a novice basketball player is to move aggressively to the ball when receiving a pass. With 3.9 seconds left in Overtime of yesterday’s Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semi-finals and his team trailing by a single point, Philadelphia 76er stud overlooked this small detail of play, allowing Celtic stalwart Al Horford to swipe Ben Simmons in-bounds pass and salt away a 101 – 98 victory.
In the “process” – and for the first time in the Brad Stevens era – Boston has assumed firm control of a playoff series.
In 2017-18, the average NBA squad committed 14.3 turnovers per game, a TO% of .130. The C’s were charged with 14.0 TO’s a game, matching the league average in TO% for a ranking of No. 15.
The Sixers were a league-worst .146 in TO%, miscuing 16.5 times every game.
For the series, Philly has committed 39 TO’s (good for 52 points on the subsequent Boston possessions), while the C’s have racked up 32 (accounting for 49 points).
In the second half and OT of Game 3, the Sixers doubled Boston’s TO total, 10 – 5.
Ten of the Sixers’ first 12 points were scored on shots attempted in the paint (the other was a Joel Embiid J from just outside the lane. But it took back-to-back treys in Q1’s final minute to wrest the lead from Boston.
Former Celtic Amir Johnson’s three Q1 minutes were his only participation in the game. Embiid logged 41 minutes for the night, and talked his way back into the line-up promptly when Coach Brett Brown wanted to rest him in the OT period.
Both teams morphed from Mr. Hyde into Dr. Jekyll – or should that be the other way around? – in the games second quarter of play. After combining to shoot 4-for-19 in the opening 12 minutes, they improved to 11-for-22 in Q2.
Boston assumed a 10-point lead at the midpoint of Q2, but went on to misfire on seven of their final 10 FG attempts.
I don’t believe I ever noticed Brad Stevens cuss before – that choirboy look tempts one to suspect he doesn’t.
But during a late Q3 possession, Ersan Ilyasova deflected a pass intended for Marcus Morris out-of-bounds. Believing he was fouled, Morris pleaded his cast to the official – but for too long, apparently, in his coach’s opinion. Stevens could clearly be seen hollering “Morris” across the court, then muttering a “God damn!"
Brad might have been bemoaning Mook’s lost shooting touch (39% for the. Milwaukee series, 34% so far vs. Philly) … or is he growing weary of this player’s excessive (?) on-court contentiousness?
Ominous opening to Q4. On the 76ers’ first two possessions, Aron Baynes picked up his fourth and fifth personal fouls. The big Aussie had just checked in to spell Al Horford.
Coach Stevens rolled the dice and stuck with Baynes for three more defensive stands. On the third, Embiid drew a shooting foul charged to Marcus Smart. (That seemed like a bullet-dodge – at least until Smart fouled out in the final minute of regulation.)
Stevens probably saved the game by calling a time-out with 26 seconds left in Q4, the C’s down by two points, the shot-clock at eight seconds and the ball in the hands of Morris (who would indeed jack up a brick just a split-second after the TO).
Rookie Jayson Tatum would execute Brad’s design expertly, lofting a gorgeous post entry pass to Jaylen Brown for a tying lay-up.
It required Marco Belinelli pulling a rabbit out of his hat to force OT.
Despite falling quickly behind by five points, notwithstanding dependable Al Horford clanking an FT in the final minute, Boston ultimately out-poised the home team.
Even Sixer Coach Brett Brown came across as indecisive. Perhaps channeling his inner-Process, Brown pulled Embiid (with only four fouls) at the 2:42 mark – but immediately caved in to Joel’s pleading by re-inserting him a mere nine seconds later.
FG: C’s – 41 - 91, .451 / Phil – 38 - 97, .392
3FG: C’s – 10 - 38, .263 / Phil – 9 - 30, .300
FT: C’s – 9 - 14, .643  / Phil – 13 - 18, .722 
TO: C’s – 13 / Phil – 15
OR: C’s – 9 + 0 (team) / Phil – 13 + 3 (team)
Poss: C’s – 102 / Phil – 104
CV%: C’s – 48 / 102, .471 / Phil – 46 / 104, .442
Note re Calculations:
The number of “possessions” is an accurate count, not a formula-based estimated value.
For purposes of clarity, the bracketed digit following the FT% is the exact count of “conversions” represented by those FTA’s.
“Possessions” calculation: FGA’s + FT conversions + TO’s – OR’s (including Team OR’s)
“Conversions” calculation: FG’s + FT conversions
Abacus Revelation for the Road
Back in the early years of the Bird era when the Celts and Sixers were meeting annually in the post-season, Boston Coach Bill Fitch got himself ejected from a home game.
While cooling his heels back in the locker room, Bill was following the national TV broadcast. In those days, live look-ins with a hand-held camera at a team’s strategy huddle during a time-out was one of the new wrinkles the league and networks were incorporating,
Never one to pass up any available edge, the wily Fitch started sending a head-up, via a ballboy, to the Boston bench with the gist of Billy Cunningham’s message to his team.
I thought of those Fitchian shenanigans while listening, in real-time I presume, yesterday to Coach Stevens design the game-winning play for Horford during a TO in the game’s final ten seconds.
I also thought there were more restrictions on how and when a network could use such footage.