With the Sixers’ playoff series vs. the Celtics tipping off tonight, the Liberty Ballers’ email thread has been active. The following is an Eastern Conference Semifinals edition of the Liberty Ballers roundtable.
Kevin F. Love: Is Brett Brown on Brad Stevens’ level as a coach? Is it too early to tell, with Brown having real talent for only the first time?
Roy Burton: I’m not ready to say that Brown is on Stevens’ level as a coach, primarily because Brown hasn’t had the luxury of having a roster with this many NBA caliber players until this season. That said, if there is a gap between the two, it’s not that large.
Sean Kennedy: I think it’s only fair we let Brett Brown accumulate more than four career playoff wins before putting him on the level of Stevens, who has won at least 53 games each of the past two seasons and reached the Eastern Conference Finals a year ago. Still, most people would put Erik Spoelstra in the same category as Stevens, and Brown more than held his own in that matchup. It’s reasonable for Sixers fans to be optimistic about this aspect of the series.
Emily Anderson: I don’t think we can be sure yet — but I’ve been impressed with his playoff coaching so far. We’ve all known that Brett Brown is a great leader by the way he has kept the locker room together during The Process, but I think he’s relieved to finally get to show off his coaching chops. The Game 1 adjustment of replacing Amir Johnson with Ersan Ilyasova at center to force Whiteside to guard the perimeter was made by trusting his gut, so I’m looking forward to seeing what else his gut tells him this series.
Kevin Rice: We’re gonna hear alllllll about how good of a coach Brad Stevens is an incredible coach, which he certainly is. But I feel like not enough credit is given to Brett Brown; we often hear all about how good the Sixers young core is, but we never truly hear about the man who took the young talent and forged it in to something incredible. If you’ve been watching any of these Jazz playoff games, the similar can be said about Quin Snyder, who doesn’t seem to draw in enough credit for the Jazz’s incredible year. It may be too early for Brown to be on the same level as Stevens, but he’s right up there.
KFL: Which Celtics player scares you the most in this series?
Roy Burton: I’m not scared of any player, necessarily, but I’m concerned with Terry Rozier. Specifically, I’m not sure who will be tasked to guard him. I image Ben Simmons will check Jayson Tatum, and Robert Covington will defend Jaylen Brown... does that mean J.J. Redick will have to chase Rozier down all game? The Sixers could flip Covington and Redick, but I don’t know if I want Redick guarding Brown, either.
Caleb Turrentine: Terry Rozier. This seems like the obvious answer but I dragged Rozier for a long time since he got drafted and I’m starting to think his improved play is my fault. And the thought of him scoring 30 points in any game in this series is terrifying.
Eric Sidewater: Al Horford. His rim protection and spacing on offense will be vital if the Celtics want to achieve success. He is the savvy vet and has the ability to contain Embiid for stretches.
Tom West: Al Horford. After all, he’s the Celtics’ obvious best player right now and he’s having a terrific playoffs so far. He can’t contain Embiid on the boards or overpower him in the post, but he’s pretty much done as a good a job guarding him as Boston could hope for in previous games, all while being the versatile, playmaking hub of the offense. Handling Horford will be a key to the Sixers winning.
Tyler Monahan: Jayson Tatum seems to be heating up at the right moment for the Celtics. He won’t overwhelm you, but he has shown the consistency in his first season that will help the Celtics in a tough matchup against the Sixers. Against the Bucks he averaged 15.4 points per game, and without many of their big stars, the Celtics will have to focus on consistency rather than flashiness.
KFL: Who are you expecting a big series from on the Sixers?
Roy Burton: Brett Brown. We’ll hear a lot about how great a coach Stevens is (and deservedly so), but I think Brown is going to roll out quite a few sets and wrinkles that will raise some eyes around the league.
Adio B. Royster: I don’t expect a big series, but how about a better series? Robert Covington. Everyone knows how important he is on the defensive end, but “Lord Covington of House Three” needs to have a better series against the Celtics. He shot 38% from the field in the Miami series, and his ability to knock down shots is important in terms of spacing the floor.
Sean Kennedy: Obviously, if the Sixers are going to win, the big guns will have to step up. Outside of them though, I predict big things from J.J. Redick. He’s one of the few guys on the roster who has experienced this level of playoff intensity. He won’t go into Boston Monday night and be taken aback by the crowd or the atmosphere. Additionally, Boston isn’t the type of team who is going to have major defensive breakdowns and allow the Sixers easy points. Philadelphia is going to have to make some tough shots; enter J.J. Redick: shot-maker.
Caleb Turrentine: The bench. Boston still has plenty of good players but the biggest issue that all the injuries have caused is depth. Rozier has been great in Kyrie Irving’s absence but that’s a great player that has to start instead of come off the bench. The Celtics can play defense and we cannot expect Embiid and Simmons to go off for four games in this series. The bench needs to step up and I think they continue to do that.
Eric Sidewater: Whoever Jaylen Brown is guarding — some combination of Covington or Simmons. Brown is coming off a hamstring strain and if he is forced to chase a player around the court, I could see him having issues. In my opinion, he was the most impactful player for the Celtics in the series against the Bucks.
Kevin Rice: *Matt Cord voice* ERSAN ILYASOOOOOOOVA. Arson went cold in the Sixers first round matchup against a physical Heat team, as he shot just 23% from distance in Games 2, 3, 4, and 5. Since joining the Sixers, Ersan was only a minus in 4 total games and it seems that when he goes, we go. The thought of Ersan Ilyasova just tearing apart the Boston Celtics is a random, and pleasant one.
Tyler Monahan: Robert Covington. One of the most important players for the Sixers all season will have to be at the top of his game against a Celtics team that doesn’t back down. If he’s able to hit his three’s at a consistent clip and play his brand of lockdown defense the Sixers will have a good chance of winning this series. Covington could see both Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown on the defensive side of the ball, so if he can get two of the Celtics biggest weapons off their groove then other, lesser players will have to step up, something I’m confident that other Sixers defenders can stop.
KFL: Which Celtic has the most potential for you to crown “Most Annoying” by the end of the series?
Everyone: Marcus Smart
Sidewater has set the lines for Smart:
Flops: O/U 7.5
Dirty Plays: O/U 4
Heat Checks: O/U 6
Embiid Mask Hits: O/U 2.5
KFL: Would you give Markelle Fultz run in this series? Or would you prefer McConnell get the backup PG minutes?
Adio B. Royster: I love Markelle. I love him like a son at this point, but I prefer McConnell get the backup minutes. His scrappiness and infinite grit is going to be important against the Celtics — specifically on the road when the Sixers will want to get every 50/50 ball they can get their hands on.
Sean Kennedy: I would work the backup PG minutes the same way Brown did against Miami. Give Fultz a shot initially. He’s one of the few guys on the Sixers who has the potential to create his own offense, a skill which could prove critical against the stingy Celtics defense. Still, if he looks overwhelmed by the moment again, Brown can’t hesitate to give him the quick hook and go back to TJ. We’re past “development time for the young guys” at this stage.
Emily Anderson: I stay stick with McConnell. I don’t think this series is going to be any less physical than the Heat series and TJ proved to handle that better than Fultz. Plus, the spotlight will be so huge on this series, and TJ has the maturity to handle that. With all that Markelle has been through this year, I think its best not to have the national media scrutinize him for not taking a wide open jump shot in a playoff game.
Eric Sidewater: I would like to see Fultz in there at least for a few minutes to see what he can bring. I know that Stevens would exploit him if he plays extended minutes, but his athleticism could help against a lengthy, switch-oriented team like Boston.
Tom West: I’d like to see Fultz get a few minutes early in the series in case he can make anything happen off the dribble, but the Celtics have a brilliant defense with size and tough guards like Rozier and Smart. In the playoffs, it’ll be a rough environment to expect Fultz to succeed in. It’s best to ride with McConnell’s steady hand as the backup point guard.
KFL: Gimme your prediction: who wins and in how many games?
Roy Burton: Philadelphia in 6 — if everyone plays up to their capabilities, the Sixers simply have more talent. I’ll be honest, though: If the series goes to 7 games, I’ll be a little concerned about this team closing things out in a hostile environment.
Adio B. Royster: This series is going to be a dog fight. The Celtics are 3rd in opp PPG and 1st in DRtg. It helps that the Sixers are definitely a better team in terms of pace, so transition buckets and easy buckets will be important. In the end, it’s all a matter of what team has the better players on the floor. In this series, Embiid and Simmons are 1-2 in terms of best starters for either team. Saric is probably 3. Because of that, I have the Sixers in 6, but I’d be careful about the “no one believes in us” theory with the Celtics. Just about everyone is picking the Sixers in this series, and that makes me worry.
Sean Kennedy: Sixers in 6. 2018 is the year of Philadelphia over Boston, after all.
Emily Anderson: Sixers in 6 — without Irving and Hayward, I think we’re the more talented team. Let’s win it at home.
Caleb Turrentine: I think the Sixers only need to get one road win to win the series and they have already showed that they can win in Boston this season. The two teams have not played since January 18th. Since then, Philadelphia is 35-11 and Boston is 25-18. I’ll take the Sixers in 6.
Eric Sidewater: Sixers in 6
Tom West: Sixers in 6. Without Kyrie or Hayward, the Celtics will put up a real fight but ultimately don’t have enough scoring or creation off the dribble to keep up.
Tyler Monahan: I’ll take the Sixers in 7. This just has the feeling of a series that will go longer than it needs to for a Sixers team that just has more talent than Boston. Expect a scratch and claw series for both teams, but in the end talent wins out. Add the fact that Philadelphia has the chance to tear out Boston fans hearts in a Game 7 after already winning the Super Bowl in the last few minutes of the game and it just seems like the perfect storm of Philadelphia domination.
Kevin Rice: Let’s get crazy. Sixers in 5.