The Boston Celtics put the finishing touches on a sweep of the Philadelphia 76ers with a 19-2 run over the late third and early fourth quarter, en route to a 110-106 win that was not as close as that final score indicates. The win officially puts away a Sixers team that now enters a critical offseason.
The Sixers hoped the Bubble might bring them some health and a refresh after a year of stagnation, but once Ben Simmons’ season ended it felt an awful lot like another lost year in Philly for the hyper-talented, yet underachieving group. For Boston, they seemed to find their stride at just the right time, even amid the loss of Gordon Hayward for a month with a sprained ankle. Their three stars — Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker — all took turns in this series giving the Sixers defense fits and now will look to a second round clash with the Toronto Raptors.
Here are three takeaways from this series, for Boston going forward in a quest to make the Finals and for Philadelphia entering an offseason of changes.
1. Tatum and Brown are the truth
Any questions about whether Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown’s growth this year would translate to the playoffs was answered emphatically in this series, as the two served as catalysts at various times for huge runs that gave Boston separation from Philly at key points — including the aforementioned run to end the third and start the fourth that proved to be the difference in Game 4.
THAT'S HOW YOU CLOSE OUT THE THIRD🔥🔥🔥 pic.twitter.com/wiUS10Bisk
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 23, 2020
Tatum finished the series averaging 27 points per game, while Brown chipped in 21.5 per as they continue to drive this Celtics offense, while also providing excellent defensive efforts on the other end.
Now the Celtics go from facing a team with a rather disjointed defense despite their talent in Philly to the most connected defense in the league in Toronto, and the tough-shot making of Tatum and Brown will be put to the ultimate test. They’ll face wave after wave of long, physical defenders from the Raptors, but they’ve proven more than capable of creating just enough space to take and make shots over the course of this year. The chess match between those two and the sensational Raptors defense figures to be the determining factor of that series, and will make for a delightful watch. The good news for Boston is it’d be hard for their two top stars to be in a better rhythm and have more confidence than they do right now coming out of a dominant first round performance.
2. How do the Celtics shift focus to a backcourt attack?
Boston is going to have to make a major shift in their defensive focus from this series, where it was all about Joel Embiid inside, to a Toronto team who are driven by their backcourt of Kyle Lowry and Fred VanVleet. Those two are playing like one of the league’s best backcourt duos and will look to go after Kemba Walker at the point of attack. With Simmons out, Philly lacked creation on the ball and it was clear how much that hurt them against Boston, as they struggled to get Embiid the ball where he needed it and also to alleviate the pressure on his shoulders.
Toronto does not have that problem in the slightest and it’ll be interesting how the Celtics shift their defensive philosophy. Brad Stevens and his staff had a terrific gameplan for this Sixers offense in place, and he made some great in-game tweaks whenever the Sixers would find a potential point of weakness. The Raptors are a much tougher task, however, and it’s now incumbent on Stevens and company to spend the next few days figuring out how to make life uncomfortable for Toronto’s two excellent creators.
3. Where do the Sixers go from here?
It is really hard to figure out what the path is for Philadelphia from here. A year ago they were four infamous bounces away from forcing OT in Game 7 against the eventual champs in the conference semis and now they’re out of the playoffs after four games. Brett Brown’s tenure as coach is almost assuredly over, but the questions extend far beyond questionable rotations and lineup choices to a roster that’s imbalanced and ill-fitting.
Does Elton Brand get another year as the general manager to try and fix things or do they replace him as well? Can Brand or a new GM find ways to shuffle the deck with Al Horford and Tobias Harris’ massive contracts in an offseason that may be short and with the league facing uncertainty about salary cap figures for the future? Can a new coach unlock a consistent offense from this group?
All of these questions hover over a team with two All-NBA talents in Embiid and Simmons, but one can’t help but wonder what another wasted year of their partnership might lead to in the near future.