Somewhat forgotten from the hoopla over the questionable coaching decisions, rotations, and the epitome of what's wrong when Louis Williams goes into end of game "closer" mode were the struggles of Jrue Holiday, Elton Brand and Thaddeus Young.
For Young and Brand, the struggles are hardly new. Since the duo combined to score 32 points in game 1 of the Chicago series, they have averaged just 5.8 points and 5.5 points respectively. Far too little production from players who are combining for roughly 50 minutes per night.
With Brand's recent struggles and being guarded a considerable amount of time by Kevin Garnett, combined with the neck spasms Brand is experiencing, make it questionable just how much production you can expect from him this series.
Young seems like a bad combination of tired legs and struggles against this Celtics squad. Young averaged just 8 points per game on 42% shooting during the 3 regular season games against Boston, having similar struggles in years past (34.8% shooting in 2008-2009, 32.1% in 2009-2010). Over Young's last 15 games against Boston he is shooting only 37.2% from the field. Young is also somewhat banged up, having been kicked in the shin in the second quarter that caused him to miss some time.
The recent history of Jrue Holiday against the Celtics isn't much better.
Over his 3 year career, Holiday has shot only 35.1% in 12 meetings, blanketed by Rajon Rondo and the Celtics defense.
The good news about Holiday's struggles is he had some good looks at the basket on Saturday. A combination of missed point blank layups and largely open jumpers that were as off as he's been all year led to his 3-13 night from the field. If he continues to get those looks at the basket, he should contribute more than he did in game 1.
The old saying goes if you win one out of two on the road, it's a success. That doesn't apply in this situation. It's not just the leads that they blew -- an 10 point lead with 10:53 left in the game -- or the fact that they controlled the game virtually the entire time, from the 7-0 start until the waning minutes. It's thew ay they blew the game. That Louis Williams corner three still infuriates me two days later. Those are the kinds of plays the underdog can't make. Those are the kinds of plays that end seasons.
If the Sixers win tonight, they should be going back to the Wells Fargo Center up 2-0 and with the Celtics on the ropes. If the Sixers lose tonight, they should have stolen home court advantage. Saturday night was a huge blow to a team that needs to take advantage of every chance they get in order to advance.
Defending Kevin Garnett
"Spencer Hawes on Garnett is an absolute matchup nightmare. I went back and re-watched Garnett's 12 made field goals, I'm pretty sure not a single one of his jump shots were contested. Spencer Hawes has to give a ton of room off of Rondo/Garnett pick and rolls, and he simply doesn't have the foot speed to recover and even remotely contested Garnett's jump shots. When Brand or Young were in the game, Garnett quickly used his length in the post.
I would expect to see the Celtics continue to attack this matchup at every opportunity, and I'm not sure there's an easy solution. With Brand and Young both banged up and struggling, Lavoy Allen is already going to be asked to contribute at the power forward spot, and Nikola Vucevic isn't exactly fleet of foot, at least not what you need to help defend Rondo.
Hawes is going to have to not show very much on the pick and roll. Ideally, I don't like giving a great passer like Rondo that much room off the pick and roll, because he's too good of a passer to give that much space and that much free passing room. But Hawes, Allen, and even Brand simply don't have the foot speed to effectively trap Rondo and recover, and we can't give Bass and Garnett uncontested jump shots all night.
Prediction: Boston 93, Sixers 87
Game thread up 6 tonight.