September 21, 2018

The Playoff Experiment: Week Four

Week Three saw the Boston Celtics win their series opener against the Philadelphia 76ers. With these two teams very familiar with one another, what drama will unfold? 

Game Two

The Celtics hosted another game and this time they had Jaylen Brown back from a hamstring injury. They got off to a slow start and it took them almost four minutes to get the first points on the board. They trailed by nine points at the end of the first quarter.

I noted that the Celtics’ team is structured differently than some others – they currently have no single star player. Kyrie Irving and Gordon Hayward are big names with big paychecks – and big injuries at the moment. But from an outside perspective with me being new to the team and the NBA, it’s interesting to see a large group of very good players rather than one core superstar with other pieces built around him. It certainly seems to be working out for Boston.

On the other side of the court, I got a laugh out of how much the 76ers’ Joel Embiid hates the mask he wears to protect his face following a fractured orbital bone. He takes it off while shooting free throws and basically every chance he gets. Mask on or mask off, Philly is glad to have Embiid back.

Philly was shooting hot from three and led by as many as 20 points during the second quarter. Embiid went through three Celtics to get to the hoop for a monster dunk. But Boston is so hard to keep out of the game. They slowly climbed back in it and trailed by only five points at half.

The Celtics kept the momentum going after the break and took the lead. Brown couldn’t let Embiid have all the dunking fun so he threw one down in the fourth. The hammy must have been feeling alright. This also brought about one of my favorite pure things in basketball: shots of the bench players going crazy. Who doesn’t love to see guys being silly and getting hyped up for their teammates?

It was a close one, but Boston made plenty of big baskets down the stretch and won 108-103. As a team, they also shot 79% from the free throw line, which helps a lot at the end of a tight game.

Game Three

At the beginning of the broadcast, the announcers shared that the Celtics have never lost a series when winning 2-0 and the 76ers have never won one when trailing 2-0. This was definitely going to be a pivotal game.

Things did not start off well for Marcus Smart as JJ Redick just about juked him out of his shoes. Jayson Tatum, on the other hand, was playing lights out on the offensive end. Defensively, he picked up his third foul in the second quarter, but coach Brad Stevens let him play. It is incredible how well Tatum has played in the postseason given that he is barely 20 years old. My first car was made in 1997. Tatum was born in 1998. I know the “I feel old” thing has been done to death, but that feels alarming.

I really enjoy the 76ers’ mid court design featuring the Join or Die snake. They definitely lean into the historical aspect of Philly and I like it. I also loved announcer Doris Burke calling out some annoying fan by saying, “we have an official behind us.”

Later, I found the feud I didn’t know I needed between Embiid and Aron Baynes. The fighting between two very large adult sons started with Embiid dunking over Baynes in the second quarter and they continued to be chippy throughout the game.

The ending to the fourth quarter was so much better than trash talk. Jaylen Brown tied the game for the Celtics with 24 seconds remaining. Terry Rozier then stole the ball from Redick, which led to another Brown basket with just 1.8 seconds remaining. Boston went from trailing to winning so quickly. Cool, right? But the 76ers weren’t ready to go home yet and Marco Belinelli hit a last second shot to force OT.

Unfortunately, OT wasn’t the same because Smart and Embiid both fouled out. Baynes was also close with five fouls. I don’t have strong feelings about either team so it was kind of fun to not cheer for anyone and just enjoy a close game. Boston pulled out the win to take a 3-0 series lead.

Game Four

Ok, NBA, we need to talk. I know this is the Eastern Conference, but a 5:00 p.m. Central tipoff on a Monday?! Most of the country was still at work or stuck in traffic. Come on, man! This was also the first elimination game for Philadelphia, which is wild considering they quickly beat the Miami Heat 4-1 in the first round.

A funny moment happened early when Aron Baynes missed the first of two free throws and then held his hands out expectantly for his teammates to high five. I think I found it amusing because it was requested encouragement, rather than offered, after a miss. It felt very meme-able.

Some much less funny things happened to the Celtics after that. Shane Larkin injured his shoulder after running into Joel Embiid, another player fell on Marcus Smart and his arm twisted under him in a way that genuinely looked painful, and Jayson Tatum got in foul trouble again. Brad Stevens continued to allow his players to stay in with three fouls. It made me nervous, but I kind of like the move because it’s less fun when the best players are on the bench.

Terry Rozier and Embiid were definitely not too worried about fouls when they got into a little shoving match in the second quarter. It started when Rozier got a little pushy with JJ Redick and was called for a common foul. Embiid tried to take the ball from Rozier after the play and he was not having it. This led to a social media debate: who would win in a real fight between Embiid and Rozier? Embiid has a definite size advantage, but Rozier does not seem like a dude you want to piss off. I think this tweet is the right take.

Embiid closed the half with a dunk as several Celtics watched. Nobody wanted that poster.

I’m going to be really honest with everyone and admit that I got distracted by Met Gala photos during the second half. I’m a woman of varied interests. When I looked up at the score every few minutes between bouts of fainting over gowns, Philly was playing with urgency and they opened up a good-sized lead.

I re-focused myself for the final quarter in time to see a close up of Rozier. Does this dude have a giant chunk missing from his ear? He must have either had an earring ripped out or he got in a fight with Mike Tyson. Maybe someone should warn Embiid.

The 76ers held their lead to avoid elimination and send the series back to Boston.

Game Five

By now, both teams knew they were playing for a matchup with LeBron James and the Cleveland Cavaliers. I have no true preference for Boston or Philly, but I was hoping the Celtics would pull off a win. I’m ready to see LeBron play, for one, and it turns out the playoffs feel pretty long when you’re writing a weekly article about them in your free time. Although I’m ready to move on to the conference finals, I have enjoyed the very competitive games. Some other series have been less exciting.

There was a buzz around the Celtics leading up to the game when it was revealed that Brad Stevens received no votes from his peers for Coach of the Year. Many fans and basketball writers were surprised as Stevens is a rising star in the NBA. Success in this year’s playoffs would certainly help prove that the attention he’s received is deserved.

The game was once again very close early as only a few points separated both teams throughout the first half. Aron Baynes’ strategy for getting his team an advantage was to exaggerate every bit of contact he took. He got a technical foul called on Joel Embiid in the third quarter for a nudge. Dude is almost seven feet tall and weighs 260 lbs. Throwing yourself off balance and waving your arms around like “Help me! I’ve been assaulted!” is totally embarrassing.

Speaking of embarrassing, Eric Bledsoe is out of the playoffs, but he keeps getting punked. The actual Drew Bledsoe showed up to the game… wearing a Rozier jersey. NBA trash talk is on another level.

Scary Terry also got the last laugh against another player in the fourth quarter. He stripped the ball from Embiid on the baseline with 10.8 seconds remaining as Embiid tried to tie the game. To make matters worse, the ball last touched him before it went out of bounds, turning it over to Boston.

It all came down to Smart shooting free throws and he sure made it interesting. Ahead by just one point, he missed his first shot. He attempted to miss the second to set Boston up for a rebound, but it went in anyway. He redeemed himself by stealing the ball on the other end to seal the game and the series for the Celtics.

I’ll give credit where it is due: Smart showed great hustle on that play and throughout the playoffs so far. I can’t wait to see how he and Boston can match up against LeBron.

Nicole Gustafson 28 Articles
Editor

Nicole was born in Chicago and raised in Des Moines. She took her talents to The Iowa State University, where she earned a degree in journalism. You can find Nicole cheering on her favorite sports teams, hanging out with her dog, or finishing a Netflix marathon. Nicole is a big fan of #pitcherswhorake, fat guy TD's, and carbs. She's not a fan of mornings, winter, or vegetables and will complain to anyone who will listen.

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