The Boston Celtics have been here before - against this very team - winning against all odds with a shorthanded lineup against the 76ers. However, down Kristaps Porzingis and Jaylen Brown, playing a Sixers team who won their last matchup and were looking excellent, the Celtics pulled out an incredible win away from home. Here's what they can take away from the matchup.
Even Healthy, The Celtics Need To Find Ways To Get Derrick White Involved
Derrick White has started the 2023 season much like how he finished 2022 - underappreciated and overachieving. Down two of their best three players, the Celtics relied on White to play a key role, and he more than delivered, leading all scorers with 27 points off 7-12 shooting. White was all over the floor and did a little bit of everything, he made threes, drove to the basket, drew fouls (led the team with 10 free-throw attempts), shot well from midrange, and was overall really hard to predict.
With this game being no exception, White's value goes beyond his scoring. He's a serviceable rebounder and has a great awareness of where the ball is at all times. He's an excellent facilitator, both in terms of getting assists and setting up plays before the assist. Defensively, beyond being able to create steals and blocks (he's near the top of the team in both categories), he's a tenacious guarding presence who allows little to no separation on his man, and very much knows his role in zone defenses.
White is second to only Tatum in +/- per game, and is second to only Pritchard in Assist/Turnover ratio. He does his job well, efficiently, and in a way that helps the team win. Using him well, regardless of who's healthy and who isn't, will be a major key to the Celtics' success this year.
The Celtics Have A Payton Pritchard Problem
Payton Pritchard wanted more minutes this season. After the departure of Marcus Smart, he got exactly that. In fact, his 20.7 minutes/game is the highest clip of his career. The Celtics and their fanbase, in return, wanted more production from him, which hasn't happened at all. He has been inefficient from the field, shooting a mere 33%. More so than the missed shots themselves, the worrisome aspect of his early performance is his reckless shot selection and often unbridled aggression.
He's distributing the ball pretty well and functioning nicely as a point guard while avoiding turnover issues, and in fact, as mentioned earlier, his whopping assist/turnover ratio of 5.6 leads the team and lies in the top 10 of the league. Pritchard can still be a huge contributor to this team, possibly as a sixth man (although Hauser is going to give him a run for his money), but he needs to become a more calculated and efficient scorer.
Handling The Best Bigs In The East Will Involve Some Lineup Creativity
The Celtics have done an excellent job with Embiid lately - last year's MVP was held to a whopping -25 plus-minus yesterday, a figure that, for him, is incredibly rare - against anyone else. While Porzingis' effectiveness as a scorer has been a tremendous benefit for the Celtics so far, it was clear in the last game that his one-on-one matchup with Embiid was unfavorable, especially physically speaking.
Having Horford's size, experience, and physicality to trouble Embiid was tremendously beneficial, and for the Celtics, double-big lineups, alterating centers, etc... will be the way to go for Celtics, and this doesn't just apply to Embiid. Horford has been effective in handling Giannis as well, and the east, in Embiid, Giannis, Bam, and Myles Turner, among others, present major threats. The role that others like Jrue Holiday, who also played Embiid quite fiercely, can play will also need to be explored. Creative rotation of their players will be a major key here.
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