Well, that wasn’t fun. In Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals of the NBA playoffs, the Celtics wiped the floor with the Sixers, winning 117-101. The entire game was frustrating both offensively and defensively. On offense, some nights the shots just don’t fall. What can you do? But on defense, the Sixers exhibited a real lack of effort.
All season long, Brett Brown has emphasized the importance of defense. So for the Sixers to go out and lay an egg is extremely uncharacteristic of this team. Call it whatever you want: rust from a week off, lack of effort, confusion, miscommunication, etc. But it’s obvious something needs to change defensively if the Sixers want to advance passed the Celtics.
One aspect of the Sixers lousy defense that really stuck out was Marco Belinelli. The Celtics relentlessly attacked Belinelli seemingly every time down the court. Every minute Beli was out there, the Celtics ran their offense through him. Yes, the offense ran through a defensive player.
It all started here, when Terry Rozier isolates Belinelli:
Look, Terry Rozier is a great isolation scorer. He’s entirely too quick for Belinelli. But this play, if Brad Stevens were a dog, would have had him licking his chops. This very play signaled to Boston that attacking Beli is a recipe for victory.
By the time Belinelli got on the court for his 2nd shift, it was game over for him. Marco would enter the game for his 2nd time with 7:05 left in the 2nd quarter and would exit at 4:23. Why only 3 minutes? Because during those 3 minutes, the Celtics went at Belinelli every. single. possession.
The following clip shows the Celtics utilizing a pick and roll set 3 different times to exploit Belinelli on defense.
Watching the first play, it’s clear that Al Horford fouls Belinelli twice. First with an illegal screen, and the second, well, Horford looks like he’s playing football. In the 2nd play, the Celtics settle for a long range shot that doesn’t go. But the objective remains the same in both plays, missed call (and shot) or not. For play #3, Shane Larkin is able to cruise by Beli, forcing Amir to help and leaving Al Horford wide open for an easy layup.
Check the time on those plays. Literally every minute Beli was out there, the Celts went after him.
The Celtics didn’t limit their attacks to PNRs in the half-court. They just wanted to force Beli to move laterally, which is smart because he’s uh... not the fleetest of foot. The following clip is an inbound play, with Tatum handling the inbounding. In an attempt to hide Beli, the Sixers have him guard the inbound pass.
Tatum inbounds to Horford just to take it right back on a handoff and attack Beli. Our Sean Kennedy said it best:
I'd call Belinelli a turnstile here, but at least a turnstile forces you to brush against it at some point. https://t.co/jYQn4s7XxC— Liberty Ballers (@Liberty_Ballers) May 1, 2018
Here’s one last play, an alley oop:
You may not want to put the blame on Belinelli there, and I won’t do so directly. There was clearly a miscommunication and even if Beli had switched onto Horford, Beli isn’t stopping an Al Horford with a full head of steam going up for an oop.
But that misses the greater point: the Celtics offense was basically seek and destroy Marco Belinelli. Every play they ran while Beli was on the court, was done in order to exploit Marco. In his current form, he’s is unplayable. Period.
There’s just a few suggestions I can think of to fix the Marco situation:
- Don’t play him
- Get a radioactive spider to bite him
- Get him going early. If Belinelli is hot from the floor, you can live with some defensive lapses. (Maybe.)
#3 could be a bit tough. The following is just one possession of the Celtics denying Marco any room to operate, but it was a theme all night:
Just suffocating defense; Smart doesn’t give Beli an inch. If Belinelli is going to be out there, Brett Brown needs to find a way to get him some space. As I’ve stated, he’s not the most agile athlete in the Association, so it’s going to be really tough. But Beli does excel at off-balance shooting. And he absolutely cannot stop moving — at the very least, he’ll wear his defender out a bit.
I have a feeling that Game 2 will give us our ultimate answer as to whether or not Belinelli can play in this series with the result of the Sixers advancing. It’s not looking good, but it’s early.