Joel Embiid is gassed and Boston needs to expose him

With so little time between games in the bubble, there’s very little time for teams to change around their game plans. Keeping that in mind, Brad Stevens has to work twice as hard in order to make the necessary tweaks for game two. While the Celtics did manage to get the win in game one, it was not enough to convince me enough that they will dominate the series.

The few things I wanted to see changed for game two had to do with energy on the offensive end, consistency making shots at the rim, and closing out in the fourth. However, with the unfortunate loss of Gordon Hayward, the Celtics might have a whole different set of problems to deal with.

Putting aside the potential tweaks to Boston’s game plan, however, the biggest storyline from game one had to have been Joel Embiid. He was looking so dominant in the first quarter and put up 11 points – but then everything changed.

His 5-5 from the field, 11 points first quarter was great and all, but it was all downhill from there. He was 0-2 in the second quarter, 2-3 in the third, and 1-5 in the fourth. Embiid made more field goals in the first quarter alone than he did in the rest of the game. His ability to close out games and lead a team for an entire game should be called into question.

By the time the end of the game rolled around, he looked completely gassed. He looked as though he was being forced to play and was doing everything possible to catch his breath. This ended up meaning that he would slack off a little on defense. Now while Daniel Theis may not have been able to make him pay with his ability to stretch the floor, the Celtics should have found other ways to expose Embiid. 

One way Boston utilized was the pick n’ roll in order to get an open mid-range shot. Kemba Walker would use Theis’ screen, and then when Embiid sagged off and played drop coverage, Walker was looking at an open mid-range shot. The only issue was that the Celtics weren’t doing too well making shots from the mid-range. It wasn’t until they realized they had to attack the rim and get open threes that they opened up a solid lead.

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That being said, I think the Celtics should take that concept and bring it out to the three-point line. The Celtics ran this type of play all year where Theis sets a screen that leads to Walker getting an open three, and a chance at drawing a foul with the player on his back. If Embiid was sagging to the paint on mid-range looks, what’s he going to do when he’s forced to come all the way out to the three-point line?

Another idea, which is admittedly a little more out there, would be running what I like to call “the death lineup”. This idea would work infinitely better if Hayward wasn’t injured, but it can still be executed without him. The idea is that the Celtics run a lineup designed to tire out Embiid, which without Hayward would look something like Walker, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and Semi Ojeleye/Romeo Langford. That’s right, no center.

Now you may think to yourself, “well who’s going to guard Embiid?” My answer? Jaylen Brown. With the way that Boston was covering him yesterday, there’s really no need for a center in the lineup. The idea was that Theis would stop Embiid from backing him up just long enough for another defender to come over and help force a turnover. If you’re going to sit there and tell me that Brown can’t do that exact same thing, then I think you’re crazy. Let’s compare the two players.

Theis is listed at 6’ 8” and 245 pounds. He’s super short for the center position, but makes up for it with smart positioning. Brown, on the other hand, is 6’ 7” and 220 pounds. He’s only an inch shorter, and despite the drop off in weight, I would argue that Brown is one of the strongest players on the team. Brown has been tasked with guarding the likes of Pascal Siakam, Bam Adebayo, and many other NBA big men. I think he’d do just fine holding off Embiid long enough for a help defender to come over.

If you don’t like that matchup, you could even put Ojeleye against Embiid in the post. He’s an inch shorter than Brown at 6’ 6”, but weighs 20 pounds heavier at 240 pounds. Ojeleye’s biggest strength is just that – his strength. He’s had to guard Giannis Antetokounmpo almost every time Boston plays the Bucks, and Stevens trusts him to stay in good position against opposing big men.

The upside to running this type of lineup is that Embiid would have no room to slack off. Without a center in the lineup, he would be forced to get out of the paint and defend the perimeter. If he was too gassed to leave the paint and defend the mid-range, imagine the problems he’d have defending the three-point arc. The Celtics wings would be able to run right past him, and even if they got to the paint, they’re crafty enough to draw the foul on Embiid.

I think this would be the perfect way to expose his inability to defend anywhere outside the paint, as well as tire him out much quicker. Having Hayward makes this lineup infinitely better, but Boston is going to have to work around his absence anyways. Either way, the C’s need to acknowledge how gassed he was in the fourth yesterday and use that information to attack more effectively.

The Celtics play the Sixers in game two on Wednesday at 6:30 PM. Let’s hope they can get another win.

Categories: Analysis

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