Boston Celtics: Player grades from their tough loss to 76ers

PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 22: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center on January 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images)
PHILADELPHIA, PENNSYLVANIA - JANUARY 22: Ben Simmons #25 of the Philadelphia 76ers controls the ball during the fourth quarter against the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center on January 22, 2021 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

After a devastating battle-like loss against the Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night, the Tatum-less Boston Celtics fell short again in a grueling fashion.

With four ties and 14 lead changes, Friday night’s loss for the Boson Celtics felt similar to letting air out of a tire. As the most effective post-up team in the league, the 76ers were firing on all cylinders.

Tobias Harris filled in the scoring lulls between a dominant 38 points from Joel Embiid and a fourth-quarter closeout by Ben Simmons. After missing two weeks, sidelined due to COVID-19 protocols, Seth Curry also didn’t miss a beat, or a shot, adding an efficient 15 points and leading the team in the plus/minus column.

The Cs showed fight, shot the ball at an efficient clip, but could not contain the hyper-efficient MVP candidate, Joel Embiid. Despite the difficult loss, Hardwood Houdini still has it’s grades at the ready:

Jaylen Brown: A

After a loss, a straight-A may not check out, but Jaylen Brown tied his career-high, making every conceivable effort to keep the Boston Celtics in this game. He tied his career-high set earlier this season with 42 points but, contextually, 42 points against a fully healthy 76ers team vs. 42 points against an injured Morant and Jackson-less Grizzlies team are not two sides of the same coin.

It’s about the degree of difficulty.

Yes, at times, Brown’s handle looked out of control, and, yes, he had a rough second quarter stretch where he went 0/5 from midrange, but overall Jaylen Brown was why the Celtics were in this game.

He provided an aggressive double team against Joel Embiid to force an offensive foul. He trailed shooters coming off screens and made plays off the dribble.

He made an impressive fourth-quarter relocation triple and was coming off screens with purpose. Yes, he only finished with three assists, but not every good pass results in an assist.

His ability to go downhill and finish through contact was on full display. With more than ⅙ of the regular season already completed for this Boston Celtics squad, Jaylen Brown doesn’t just appear, but rather is one of the best two-way players in the entire league.

Let’s give him some credit despite a loss.

Marcus Smart: B-

While Marcus Smart had a solid shooting night going 2-5 from three, finishing with 20 points, dishing out seven assists, and played some impressive help defense he was a bit too cavalier at times with the ball in his hands.

Aggressive to perhaps a fault at times on defense, Smart made an early quarter bad gamble and finished the game with five fouls.

On offense, the Boston Celtics captain looked aggressive with his pursuits to the basket but struggled to finish at the rim, especially with Joel Embiid lurking in the paint.

Perhaps his mistakes were amplified given the heat of the moment as he continued to show grit and determination in typical Marcus Smart form.

While the Cs won’t face the 76ers again during the regular-season, I’d be thinking that he has them in mind for a revenge matchup if these two teams square off in the playoffs. He’s just that type of tough and certainly has some competitive disdain for this 76ers team.

Kemba Walker: B-

With the jump shot not falling from beyond the arc (1-7), Kemba Walker still seems to be in an adjustment phase. A lot of his possessions on offense came against Matisse Thybulle, one of the best perimeter defenders in the league, especially with his trailing blocks and jump shot contests.

Walker fell victim to a few of these plays, as Brad Stevens and the Boston coaching staff gave him an extra three minutes of playing time.

While his shots weren’t falling from deep, Kemba had some nice instances of snake dribbling around the pick and roll, splitting the defense at times as the ball handler.

He drew Joel Embiid’s second first-quarter foul at the 6:50 minute mark on a nifty and-one play and helped push the pace in transition.

Despite going 1-7 from three, Walker made almost every one of his books at the rim, as he ended up with 19 points on 50 percent shooting, not a bad performance given that it’s only three games back into action.

Defensively, Walker came up with a nice third-quarter steal, helping off his man to pester Embiid.

Grant Williams: C

The 76ers went at Grant Williams on the first three plays of the game.

In an amusing circumstance of events, Williams was forced to guard a Joel Embiid post up, Tobias Harris midrange, and a Ben Simmons drive all within the game’s first three minutes.

A lot to handle for a second-year player.

Williams may also get the Daniel Theis treatment from the officials as he picked up four fouls in under 12 minutes of action. Grant Williams is a capable defender, and this season he’s been doing a better job of keeping his hands up and making those needed defensive slides, playing defense with his feet, not his hands.

That said, Grant looked a bit overmatched trying to deal with the physicality of Ben Simmons. Early on, he had a play where he switched from Simmons to Embiid on defense in the post up.

Imagine as a second-year player having to guard both of those guys on one possession.

He converted on a needed third quarter triple and had some nice hustle plays that fail to show up in the traditional box score. Williams is very much still in the learning phase of his career when it comes to guarding elite talent. If we count screen-assists in a traditional boxscore, Williams set a nice screen to free up Kemba Walker on an underrated, well-executed, fourth quarter out of timeout play.

Tristan Thompson: C+

While Joel Embiid had another dominant performance, Tristan Thompson did his best all night to keep himself in front of the MVP candidate.

Thompson, much like Theis — and Williams — did not get the benefit of the whistle. He fell victim to the Harden-esque up fake, hand in the cookie jar tactics of Embiid, as Thompson finished the night with five personal fouls.

While he only finished with five rebounds, I thought he provided needed activity on the boards and kept several possessions alive with his hustle. He had an impressive late-game block and save down the stretch, which allowed the Boston Celtics to cut the lead to three.

Thus far, Thompson has been fouling a lot more than his Cleveland days, but I’d expect him to regress to his past numbers of being the needed and physical long-haul center.

And one more quick thing — in an interview during the game, Kemba Walker mentioned how unselfish the Boston bigs are when it comes to using offensive possessions and allowing the guards and wings to shoot.

Again, yes, the points column looks great, but for Thompson, his unselfishness this season needs to be noted, even during a losing effort.

Daniel Theis B-

Calling all Boston Celtics fans — let us embark on a needed and necessary project.

Let’s find every foul committed by Daniel Theis and submit these tapes to the league office. Let’s use diagrams with angles and protractors to demonstrate how half of the fouls he commits are actually, by the definition of a foul, not in fact a foul.

This again happened during Friday’s loss, as it’s infuriating to watch at times. That said, Theis still did his best to frustrate Embiid and got under his skin.

After almost eclipsing his career-high during Wednesday’s matchup, Theis was much quieter in the scoring column but converted on a triple.

He played alongside Thompson early on, reverting back to Boston’s double big lineup. This had a solid possession guarding Shake Milton in isolation, forcing him to pass out of a drive.

He came up with a nice help block on Seth Curry and ran the floor with intent, even during the game’s late stretches. Like Thompson, Theis only took three shots in almost 25 minutes of play, as, again, this is something that goes under the radar when we grade players.

Sometimes it’s the shots you don’t take.

Javonte Green: B

Outside of Daniel Theis, Javonte Green led the Boston Celtics’ bench unit in minutes played, as his aggressive help defense and ability to scramble back to his man have proved incredibly valuable to this team.

He played the passing lanes like a free safety, and his overall energy on defense caused that needed and necessary havoc.

While he missed his two looks from beyond the arc, Green did a great job both on and off the ball as he spent several possessions guarding Tobias Harris in isolation.

Giving off vibes of early Tony Allen, I’d expect Green to be someone that continuously gets at least 10-15 minutes a game given his infectious defensive energy.

Jeff Teague: C

Replacing an injured Payton Pritchard who suffered a first-quarter sprain to his right knee, Teague came out aggressive, looking for his shot.

Unfortunately, he failed to convert, going 1-5 from the field in 18 minutes of play. While he made on an above the break triple, his shot looked a tad flat as Teague didn’t feel extremely involved within the Boston Celtics offense.

That said, early on, Teague helped ignite the team when they went on a 16-4 run to close the first quarter. Again, it wasn’t all bad for Teague as he still managed to pick up two steals, draw an offensive foul on Dwight Howard, and dime out two assists.

A Brad Stevens favorite, his inconsistencies thus far have been troubling, but I’d expect Teague to rebound from this game given his fighter’s mentality.

Semi Ojeleye: B

In a relatively quiet night for Ojeleye in the offensive column, he played his usual brick wall defense as he took possessions guarding Simmons and Harris, forcing both them to give up the ball on drives to the basket.

As a low usage wing, Ojeleye converted on an above the break tipple and actually made some nice decisions off the dribble, even though these decisions didn’t end up in the traditional box score.

He was on the floor when the Boston Celtics had their attempted fourth quarter comeback, and while he wasn’t featured early on, I think Semi makes sense as a closing wing.

He adds that needed bolstered defensive presence. Again, he only committed a singular foul on very physical defense.

Ojeleye has been doing this for years.

Robert Williams: C

After missing two weeks worth of action, Robert Williams did not feel as bouncy as usual.

While he made plays on the glass and an aggressive offensive rebound that led to a Marcus Smart made triple, you could tell that Time Lord was in need of some more reps heading into Friday night’s loss.

He seemed one step behind on his two consecutive fouls against Joel Embiid, again, the Embiid fouling tactician at work. Williams had two relatively easy looks at the basket but didn’t throw them down in the typical Time Lord fashion. Still, he did his best to follow the play, as I’d expect his energy and bounciness to return to typical Time Lord status.

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