By Matthew Geagan, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Just about everything was favoring the Philadelphia 76ers heading into Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Semis.
They were the hottest team in the NBA as their series with the Celtics tipped off. They’re healthy, and they came to Boston well-rested after getting five days off following their first-round ousting of the Miami Heat. The Celtics had just played 48 hours prior, blowing out the Milwaukee Bucks in Game 7 of their first-round matchup, and were without starting guard Jaylen Brown, out with a hamstring injury.
Ho-hum, just another injury for the Celtics to overcome. With just about everyone picking Philadelphia to win the series, the Celtics made a statement with a 117-101 victory in Game 1, a clear sign that they’re not going to go down without a fight. We already knew that, but Monday night was a nice reminder for the rest of the NBA.
Boston won every quarter on Monday night as Terry Rozier, Al Horford and Jayson Tatum combined for 83 points. They never trailed after taking a 10-9 lead at the 6:22 mark of the first quarter. They even held rookie sensation Ben Simmons in check, and didn’t allow Philly’s sharpshooters to get in any kind of rhythm from downtown, one of their most deadly weapons.
This was just Game 1 of what could and should be a long series, so it’s important not to overreact. But on that same note, it’s hard not to feel pretty great about the Celtics after such a convincing win. No one will blame you for basking in all the glory for another day or so, especially with all the green goodness that emanated from the TD Garden on Monday.
Jayson Tatum Wins Battle Of The “Rookies”
Celtics fans gave it to Simmons pretty hard on Monday, chanting “Not A Rookie!” when he went to the free throw line in the second half. Technically, Simmons is a rookie after missing all of last season with an injury, and he should absolutely win Rookie of the Year — it wouldn’t be fair to hold a dumb NBA rule against him after a spectacular first season on the floor. He was pretty good on Monday, finishing with 18 points, seven rebounds and six assists.
But Boston’s own rookie outplayed Simmons in just about every way. Tatum was a force on the offensive end, scoring 29 points. He made seven of his nine three pointers, and made several strong moves to the basket en route to his monster night.
Tatum has now scored 20 or more in three straight games, the first Boston rookie to do so in the playoffs since Larry Bird accomplished the feat in four straight playoff tilts during the 1980 playoffs. Pretty good company for the 20-year-old.
Terry Rozier Is Still Scary Good
When he entered the TD Garden wearing a Drew Bledsoe jersey, you knew Rozier was ready to go. Yes, he’s having some fun with the Bledsoe thing, but he’s still locked in and making a huge impact for Boston.
Rozier dropped a playoff career-high 29 points and stuffed the stat sheet with eight rebound and six assists. He also drained seven triples, which was two more than the entire Sixers team. Whenever Philly started to go on a run in the second half, Rozier was there to stomp out any chance they had at a comeback. He hit a huge three early in the fourth after Philadelphia had cut Boston’s lead to single digits, part of his 13-point outburst in the game’s final frame.
He also has some pretty sweet kicks.
Al Horford Is On A Ridiculous Run
Those who called Al Horford average look pretty darn foolish as the C’s veteran continues to flex his muscles this postseason. Horford shot 10-for-12 on Monday night, scoring 26 points to go with seven rebounds. Going back to Game 7’s dominating performance, Horford has his 23 of his last 29 shots. He made Joel Embiid look silly on a handful of occasions on Monday.
He also kept Embiid out of the paint when the Celtics had the ball, opening things up for everyone else. But other than all of that, he was pretty average…
Marcus Smart Continues To Do Marcus Smart Things
Marcus Smart. Many people love him. Many people don’t love him. He can cause euphoria or he can cause a migraine, and occasionally, both in the span of a few minutes.
But the man makes winning plays and that’s just a fact that is getting harder and harder to deny. Late in the third quarter, Smart outmuscled Embiid under the Boston basket for a Marcus Morris miss, and then flipped the ball over his head for a beautiful and-one.
The rebound is nothing new for Smart. But maybe he should shoot like that all the time?
Smart impacts the game in so many ways, and is a wonderful riddle to watch.
The Sixers Were Ice Cold From Downtown
Philadelphia can light it up from three-point range, but couldn’t buy a shot from deep on Monday night. Maybe they were off after a five-day break, but the Celtics deserve credit for limiting their chances at good looks.
The Sixers shot just 5-for-26 from long range, half of what they usually make on a given night. Career sharpshooter J.J. Redick was just 2-for-7 from three-point land, while Dario Saric and Robert Covington were both 0-for-4. Embiid was the only Philly player to have any success from downtown, hitting two of his five attempts, but Embiid taking threes is a W for Boston.
Philly will probably hit more shots going forward, but if the Celtics play perimeter defense like they did on Monday, they’re not going to get very many good looks.