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5 tellings numbers from Game 4: Covington’s minutes, Simmons’ impact, Embiid’s reduced load

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5 telling numbers from Game 4 of Sixers/Celtics.

NBA: Playoffs-Boston Celtics at Philadelphia 76ers Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
  • -11.2%: Joel Embiid’s usage frequency was above 30% for each of Games 1, 2 & 3, averaging a usage rate of 32.6% in those games. In Game 4, JoJo’s usage rate dropped 11.2 percentage points to 21.4%. It’s been a strategy of Brad Stevens to allow the Sixers to go to Embiid in the post. The Celtics haven’t been sending double teams when Jo gets the ball down low, instead deciding to deny open looks from distance by keeping the perimeter defenders from leaving their assignment. The result often was a low efficiency look from Embiid while winding down the shot clock. Well, Brett Brown decided to stop feeding right into the Celtics plan: Joel posted up just 6 times in Game 4, compared his nearly 13 per game average over the first 3 games. With a reduction in touches — just 63 touches in Game 4 for the Sixers’ big, 19 less than his previous low in this series — Joel spent his time setting more screens and the Sixers offense had some more flow.
  • 19 points: TJ McConnell recorded a career high 19 points last night. Maybe more impressive: he was 9 of 12 from the floor. It was just so perfect.
  • +5: For the very first time in this series, Ben Simmons finished with a positive plus-minus at +5. Plus-minus is noisy and one player’s plus-minus can sometimes be the result of a different player’s influence. However, when a player who is typically 1st or 2nd in usage on a team — and typically plays the most minutes on the team — is a minus, it’ll be tough to win games. And it’s no secret that Simmons has struggled to be effective in this series, ultimately stalling the Sixers offense at times. But last night, Simmons found ways to make the most of his presence on the court by being more active off the ball. If the Sixers are going to win with Simmons playing 30+ minutes, he needs to be a positive. Duh Kev! But it was really becoming a concern, even after accepting the… hole the Sixers are in. After what was shown in the first 3 games of this series, many of us were saying to ourselves, “Man, this is a problem - and not just for these playoffs.” Last night, Simmons got back on track to ease some concern. It is truly a relief to just see him having a positive impact on the game.
  • 19 minutes: Robert Covington played only 19 minutes in Game 4 of Sixers/Celtics, 11 minutes less than his playoff average of 30 MPG before Game 4. Brett Brown needed to find a way to get TJ McConnell starter minutes, and Covington was the victim. However, to place the blame of Cov’s minutes reduction only on McConnell’s start is misdirected. Covington hasn’t been himself in this series and Brown had to reduce his role until Covington gets himself out of this funk. I think it really all comes down to this: the Celtics roster is a bad matchup for Covington. Covington often relies more on instinct than athleticism. While both are crucial tools for defense, the Celtics have an abundance of quick guards and wings that outclass Cov’s athleticism, and so finding the right assignment for him has been tricky. We’ve seen Cov have success playing up a position on defense (PFs, bigger SFs) in the past while he’s been known to get beat by a quick first step when playing guards. It’s really tough for me to grasp the idea that Covington may not be the Sixers best perimeter defensive option in the 1st unit. He has been and is that kind of defender, and I believe he will be for a long time. But it could make sense, for however much longer this specific series continues, to use Covington as a defensive anchor in the 2nd unit. He’ll have more energy in a reduced role, while TJ can harass Terry Rozier on the 1st unit. (For what it’s worth, Covington’s defensive rating of 91 in Game 4 was his series best, shattering his previous best of 104.)
  • 3 to 1: The series is now 3 to 1 in favor of the Celtics. Can we dream? The Sixers travel to Boston to play Game 5 in the TD Garden Wednesday night (5/9) at 8 pm. If the Sixers can steal Game 5, they bring the series back home and things get interesting. I think there’s some moral victory in at least forcing a Game 7, no? One game at a time.