LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – When Boston Celtics forward Gordon Hayward sprained the court in the right ankle late in the fourth quarter of Game 1 of their first-round series against the Philadelphia 76ers, it appeared in the position of Boston as a reliable championship. The claimant was in danger.
Celtic was written by many in the wake of Halward’s injury. A team already dependent on big minutes and production from five outstanding perimeter players – Kamba Walker, Jaylen Brown, Jason Tatum, Marcus Smart and Hayward, would be without one of those pillars, at least until the Eastern Conference Finals.
But so far in these playoffs, the Celtics have not only survived without Hayward – they are thriving. And, following the 112–94 demolition of Toronto on Sunday afternoon in Game 1 of this much-awaited Eastern Conference semifinal series, the Celtics have proven that they remain firmly in the talks of emerging from the East and coming back to the NBA Finals. For the first time in a decade.
“I believe in each of those people in that locker room,” Tatum said. “We have spent so much time together here, working every day, we are ready.
“It’s not perfect for every game.”
For the Celtics to succeed without Hayward – who not only scored 17.5 points, 6.7 rebounds and 4.1 assists, could also be the team’s best passer and guard multiple spots on the floor – everyone remaining on the perimeter Must take up roles.
That’s exactly what happened on Sunday – especially from Kemba Walker and Marcus Smart.
Walker – playing in his first second-round playoff game despite being in his ninth NBA season – feasted on Philadelphia’s porous pick-and-defense in the first round. Going against Toronto’s more formidable defenders, his life was expected to be more difficult.
Instead, Walker was Boston’s best player offensively, finishing with 18 points and 10 assists in 32 minutes. More importantly, he kept only two turns against Toronto’s unarmed defense, keeping Boston under control while he was on the court.
“I felt Kemba played a really good game,” said Celtics head coach Brad Stevens. “It’s hard to play against those guys. There was some time where we stopped because our call was late and because we weren’t in our spots.
“We have to be in our spots, you have to execute with speed, you have to do what you have to do to get an inch on these guys. And then when you get an inch, they are the best at catching. Are. UP. ”
The Celtics, however, did not allow Toronto to win thanks to the feats of both Walker and Hayward’s replacement in the starting lineup, Smart. Because Boston’s other perimeter players are flashier – Tatum and Brown are rising stars, while Walker and Hayward were free-agent signs at times – Smart can fly under the radar at times.
However, spend time watching the Celtics, and it quickly becomes clear that as Smart goes, so does Boston.
Smart outscored Open Corner 3, giving Boston an 11–3 lead immediately. But when Smart hit the shot on Sunday, going 5-for-9 from 3-point range en route to score 21 points, it was his play at the other end that really set the tone for the Celtics.
Toronto repeatedly got All-Star Pascal Sikam on the right block against Smart – sacrificing nearly six inches in that matchup. But Smart, one of the best individual defenders in the league, won the matchup repeatedly. And, in a play that concerned understanding the game, Smart made an excellent play in center court in a transition to give Fred VanWelt a surprise double-team, without the result of Robert Williams stealing the ball from him. Was drowned. Within a radius of 40 feet.
Smart wreaked havoc everywhere, finishing with a game-plus-27 in his 31 minutes, but helped hold Siakam and VanVleet to a combined 8-performance, including 2-for-14 from 3-point range. .
“With Gordon, it’s definitely a big hit for our team,” Smart said. “But it definitely allows people to involve themselves, including in other ways. Just picking up bits and pieces, whether it’s scoring the ball, playing defense, those little things Doing it. I found a lot of people around me who are very good. On the objectionable end.
“My job is to make sure that we stay very connected on the defensive end. That’s why, by me, I pick up Slack for Gordon and everyone else.”
Smart did his job in Game 1. Still, for Boston to survive, he needed at least something from the rest of his roster. Daniel Theiss was unstable on Sunday, but a combination of him and Robert Williams overtook Mark Gasol and Serge Ibka. Brad VanMaker, who has been a solid, reliable player off the bench supporting Walker, had seven points and six rebounds in 28 minutes, while Semi Ojele scored an open corner 3 and did a solid job, with Toronto on the perimeter. Defended its wings. 23 minutes of that.
The Celtics continue to require those small contributions to maintain the momentum built through the first five matches of the playoffs.
“Nobody is going to do that [Gordon] Statistically, that’s what he does every night, “Stevens said.” We have to do it by committee. In the Philly series, Grant [Williams] Came off the bench and had big moments. Flat nail [Wanamaker] Came off the bench, there were big moments. Marx was his normal self. Marcus was incredible at both ends today, and I felt that Ardhi actually filled that second place today.
“We need another body to throw out all these different people, because they run it well, so we’re not trying to replace him with one person.”
Boston’s entire season is dependent on perimeter players who do the heavy lifting. It was a formula that, with Hayward, it seemed that after this year’s success the Celtics could have the result that they were going to be a year earlier.
The pieces, even without Hayward, are a far better fit around this time. That’s why, when Tatum was asked if he had any concerns about whether Boston’s start to this postmarton last year – with five straight wins to four straight losses – he could. .
“You had to bring it up last year,” Tatum said. “It’s different. It’s just a different environment, different team … but last year is behind us. It’s just different all around.
“We know it’s not going to be easy. They are rescue rooms for a reason.”