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Kyrie Irving “acts up”! An extra large batch of Christmas takeaways from Boston Celtics/Philadelphia 76ers

1. The big takeaway from this one? What a game. This was a treat on Christmas Day. These two teams seem to continually bring out the best in each other, even if the results have been decidedly slanted towards Boston recently.

2. While the Jimmy Butler trade was the right thing for Philadelphia long-term, it has had some negative short-term impacts. One of those is that the Sixers are almost always left with a poor defender on the floor. Whether that is JJ Redick, Mike Muscala, Landry Shamet or Furkan Korkmaz, there is always at least one place for the offense to attack.

In last year’s playoffs, the Celtics had great success going at Redick and Marco Belinelli. Whenever Philadelphia played the two of them together, it almost a guarantee Boston would get a good look. In this game, the Celtics spent the opening quarter hunting Redick as the mismatch. Kyrie Irving had great success going at him off the dribble. And on this clip, Jayson Tatum draws Redick on the switch and patiently backs him down for the easy bucket:

3. On the other end of the floor, Redick caused the Celtics a bunch of headaches early in the game. Boston started with Irving guarding him, but Irving lost Redick through the maze of screens the Sixers like to run for him. Brad Stevens then switched Marcus Smart onto Redick and that helped, but the Celtics still lost him a handful of times. On this play, it was Jaylen Brown who turned his head to look at the ball and lost track of Redick:

4. Keeping track of Redick became a point of emphasis as the game went along. Redick started 4-of-4 from deep in the first half. In the second half and overtime, he was a combined 0-for-6 from behind the arc. This clip came right after Stevens had ripped the team for losing Redick. Guess they got the message, as Tatum, Irving and Daniel Theis all closed hard on Redick to force the turnover:

5. We’ve talked a lot about Irving playing off the ball while others set the offense. It’s become somewhat of a staple of the Boston offense. This set is designed to get Irving going to the bucket, but it starts with him hanging out in the corner to start the play. It’s a nice way to take some of the ballhandling pressure off Irving, but still utilize him as a devastating scorer.

6. When Philadelphia traded for Butler, they sapped some of their depth. They gave up two starters in Dario Saric and Robert Covington, but also lost a third starter because Markelle Fultz had to go to the bench for lineup balance reasons. And, of course, Fultz is now out while fighting a shoulder condition. This has left Brett Brown with an undermanned reserve unit. It showed up in a big way in this game, as Boston’s bench outscored Philly’s by a 25-13 margin. And this wasn’t even one of the better performances from the Celtics reserves this season.

7. Something to file away for later this season: the 76ers have no one who can guard Irving. Butler does a decent job, but he’s not built to defend point guards, especially Irving, for an entire game. That leaves T.J. McConnell as the best option, but he’s a huge negative on offense. Irving is going to score on even the best guys, but he got a lot of his 40 points on Philadelphia with relative ease. That’s a problem for the Sixers, should these two meet when it really matters.

8. Tatum had some struggles getting going offensively. With Irving the focal point, and Marcus Morris playing well (more on this later!), Tatum was the clear third option. For a scorer, it can be tough to be relegated to the side. Without consistent touches, it’s hard to find a rhythm. That’s why this set-play from Stevens to get Tatum a post-touch against Redick was so good. It helped get Tatum going and paid off as he made some big plays down the stretch.

9. The Celtics played pretty well for most of the game, minus one stretch that carried from late in the third quarter into the start of the fourth. The 76ers ripped off a 13-2 run, that became a 21-8 run, to take the lead. The culprit? Bad shots and sloppy turnovers, combined with an inability to guard Joel Embiid. Throughout this period of the game, Irving, Smart, Brown and Terry Rozier all took some very questionable shots.

And Boston missing Aron Baynes showed up in a big way. At the end of the third quarter, Embiid went on a personal streak of eight points for Philadelphia. But it was how he got them that was demoralizing for the Celtics. He got six of the eight point at the free throw line, as he simply overpowered Theis. And the other two came on a dunk that Theis had no shot at defending. With Baynes out and Horford’s minutes restricted, Embiid had a field day for portions of the game.

10. But two of those things turned around in a big way to get the Celtics back in the game and into overtime. First, Stevens went to a dual point guard look with Irving and Rozier playing together. Rozier brought terrific energy to the game and made a bunch of plays to keep Boston in it. And remember how we said the Sixers can’t defend point guards? They certainly can’t handle two of them.

11. The second thing that turned the game around for Boston was Horford’s defense against Embiid late in the game. In the fourth quarter, a visibly gassed Embiid shot just 1-of-4. He then only got one scoring opportunity in overtime, when he was fouled and made two free throws. Horford was the reason why. Stevens got the ok to extend his minutes for overtime and Horford delivered. He was great about contesting every time Embiid touched the ball. Beyond that, he did a great job denying touches to Embiid. This play is just one example of that standout individual defense against one of the best offensive centers in basketball:

12. With the game back-and-forth down the stretch, Irving was the best player on the floor. Last year, after Irving went down for the season, Boston didn’t have anyone they could give the ball to in endgame situations and say “Get us a bucket.” Everything had to come from Stevens scheming ways to get points. On this play, Irving shows his value as the team’s closer:

13. The Irving finished off Philadelphia in overtime with two monster shots. Both came in different ways. On this first one, remember that Embiid looks like he’s out of energy. Stevens knows this and calls for a handoff from Horford to Irving. Embiid isn’t coming out to contest at this point. The result? An open look for Irving to give Boston back the lead:

14. Then, following a stop from the Celtics, Irving takes one of those shots that very few players in the NBA will even take, let alone make:

Kyrie Irving said that he told his teammates before the game he was going to “act up” and he delivered time and time again.

15. As it has been all season, there aren’t really many highlight plays from Marcus Morris. He’s just been quietly terrific for Boston. With Irving scorching hot early, Morris waited his turn and then carried the Celtics for chunks of the game. He finished with 23 points on 8-of-13 shooting. It’s hit the point where you are surprised when Morris misses a shot. He’s been as important as anyone to Boston’s success this year.

16. Tatum had a rough shooting game, as he knocked down just 7-of-18 from the field. But he made up for that by hitting some big shots late, grabbing 10 rebounds and locking down Jimmy Butler late. Butler was 1-for-5 combined from the floor in the fourth quarter and overtime. Tatum was the primary defender on almost all of those shots and made Butler a non-factor when it mattered most.

17. Irving contributed more than just monster buckets. He showed off his sudden prowess as an offensive rebounder throughout the game. Irving snagged four offensive boards for the Celtics, and although this one didn’t lead to a second-chance hoop for Boston, look who digs out the rebound among the trees:

18. It used to be that three-pointers were the great equalizer in the NBA. Teams could shoot themselves in or out of games. But everyone takes upwards of 30 triples a game now. It’s no longer the underrated weapon it once was. For the Celtics, they often find their great equalizer is turnovers. Boston turned it over just nine times, while forcing Philadelphia to cough it up 19 times. That led to a 22-5 advantage in points off turnovers for the Celtics. Boston also led in fastbreak points by a 23-15 margin and held a 50-30 advantage on points in the paint. A lot of this was created by the Celtics forcing turnovers, which offset some of the Sixers advantages.


Kyrie’s Christmas:

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