Jaylen Brown

Playoff loss to Celtics appears to be helping shape Sixers' draft plan

Playoff loss to Celtics appears to be helping shape Sixers' draft plan

It was just over a month ago that the Sixers were getting sliced apart by the Boston Celtics over the course of their five-game Eastern Conference semifinals series.

Sure, the Sixers allowed 106.4 points per game in the series (only up from 105.3 during the regular season). But it was how the Celtics scored those points that made the difference.

Boston’s perimeter players completely dominated the Sixers. Terry Rozier was able to dance with the ball in his hands before splashing one jump shot after another. Marcus Smart found a way to continually cut through the lane for baskets at the rim. Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum were stellar at all three levels to deliver the knockout punches.

It was certainly skill that allowed Tatum (23.6), Rozier (19.0), Brown (15.3) and Smart (10.8) to average double-digit points in the series. However, athleticism played a huge role in the production.

Now, the Sixers appear ready to combat some of that supreme ability in this week’s NBA draft. They’ve already taken close looks in workouts at athletic freaks Miles Bridges, Lonnie Walker and Mikal Bridges. Now high-fliers Kevin Knox and Zhaire Smith are both scheduled for follow-up workouts on Tuesday.

You have to think the Sixers are giving Knox (see draft profile) strong consideration with one of their two first-round picks (Nos. 10 and 26). The forward just displayed his skills for the team in a group setting on Friday and now he gets a solo workout on Tuesday afternoon.

“They’re really interested in me,” Knox said (see story). “They love my game, they love the way I can shoot the ball. That’s something they really like to do is shoot a lot of threes. My versatility, being able to take guys off the dribble is something that would complement really well with Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid. So that’s kind of the message they have for me, being able to come in with tenacity, play with fight, play with energy.”

The 18-year-old Knox also admitted the Sixers view him as a small forward. You think a  6-9, 215-pound body out on the wing would help slowing down the likes of the Celtics’ Brown and Tatum while giving them something to seriously worry about on the other end of the floor. Yeah, apparently so do the Sixers.

“I want to play the three,” Knox said. “That’s something that a lot of guys have me projected playing the three. Coach really liked that. He really wants me to play the three if I come here. So that’s kind of the mentality he wants me to have — be able to come in and be able to guard threes, be able to take guys off the dribble, pick-and-roll and be able to shoot threes. That’s kind of the message he had for me.”

Meanwhile, Smith (see draft profile) didn’t mince words when asked what his No. 1 asset is coming into the league.

“Athleticism,” he said following his June 12 workout for the Sixers. “Using it very well, rebounding, blocking shots, defending, et cetera.”

Smith isn’t lying. He’s arguably the most athletic player in the entire 2018 NBA draft as the 19-year-old tied for second among everyone at the combine with a vertical leap of 41.5 inches.

Still, Smith wants to make sure the Sixers and other teams know he brings much more to the table than being an elite leaper.

“I wanted to show my ability to shoot the ball, play-make, bring the ball up, coming off screens and making the right decisions.”

Whether the Sixers end up with either of these two prospects or not, it’s clear the organization has placed a premium on athleticism heading into Thursday night’s draft. And they can thank the rival Celtics for the not-so-subtle nudge in that direction.

More on the Sixers

Sixers eliminated in thrilling Game 5 loss to Celtics

Sixers eliminated in thrilling Game 5 loss to Celtics

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The Sixers' season is over.

Their hunt to become the first NBA team to fight back from a 3-0 deficit to win a seven-game series ended in Game 5 with a down-to-the-wire 114-112 loss to the Celtics at TD Garden Wednesday.

In a battle that came down to the final possession, the Sixers fell short in the deciding game that featured 21 lead changes and 11 ties.

The Celtics move on to face the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference Finals. 

• A combination of missed threes, turnovers and failed free throws totaled up in Game 5. The Sixers shot 8 for 21 from long range, 24 for 31 at the line and gave up 16 points off 17 turnovers. Brett Brown considered that “leaving points on the table,” and they have an extra sting given the two-point game differential. 

• The Sixers were in this game until the very end. After falling behind by nine at halftime, they fought back in the third. The Sixers outscored the Celtics, 30-22, in the quarter and led, 94-90, with 8:51 to play, but the Celtics went on a 10-0 spurt to claim a six-point edge.  

• The final minutes of the game became a race for the Celtics to build upon their lead and the Sixers frantically trying to catch up. And the Sixers did. The Sixers were up four with 1:37 remaining before the Celtics made another push. 

• JJ Redick drained a three to make it a one-point game with 3.8 seconds to go. T.J. McConnell fouled Marcus Smart, who had been 7 for 11 at the line. Smart went 1 of 2, leaving the window open for the Sixers to pull off a heroic last shot. That wouldn’t happen. Smart picked off Simmons’ long inbounds pass as the buzzer sounded and the Celtics advanced. 

• Redick is a student of game film. This likely will be one he watches back a few times. Redick (14 points) shot 5 for 13 from the field and 2 for 7 from three. That includes his key trey down the stretch, but overall he was off the mark in 38 minutes. Redick also ran into foul trouble with five whistles. 

• Joel Embiid played in a mask without goggles. He scored 27 points as he went 9 for 18 from the field and 0 for 4 from three. Embiid pulled down 12 rebounds.

He had a chance to tie the game with 12.5 seconds remaining, but he missed a shot over Aron Baynes at the rim. He was able to grab his own rebound only to have Terry Rozier smack the ball off the center’s body and out of bounds.

Embiid will not use his mask for an excuse, and it will be left to wonder how much it impacted him in the playoffs.

• Jayson Tatum continued to look more experienced than a rookie with another 20-plus point game. He led the Celtics with 25.

• Dario Saric came through with 27 points and 10 rebounds. Ben Simmons posted 18 points, eight boards and six assists. 

• Brad Stevens responded to the Sixers’ lineup change of inserting McConnell by moving Jaylen Brown back into the starting five. Smart came off the bench. Brown had been playing with the second unit after suffering a hamstring injury in the first round. The athletic Brown scored 24 points in 31 minutes. McConnell had nine points, six rebounds and five assists in 38 minutes.

Celtics insert Jaylen Brown back into starting lineup for Game 5 vs. Sixers

Celtics insert Jaylen Brown back into starting lineup for Game 5 vs. Sixers

BOSTON — As expected, the Celtics made a change to their starting lineup for Game 5 to counter the Sixers’ Game 4 adjustment of starting T.J. McConnell.

Jaylen Brown is back in while Marcus Smart goes to the bench. Brown had started all 70 regular-season games in which he played before suffering a hamstring injury in the first round of the playoffs. Brown missed Game 1 of the Eastern Conference semifinals and was in the second unit for Games 2, 3 and 4. 

The insertion of Brown in the starting lineup gives the Celtics extra athleticism and length to counter the Sixers, including McConnell, who scored 19 points in a standout Game 4 performance to keep the series going. The Celtics lead, 3-1. 

Brett Brown anticipated Brad Stevens would switch his starters. However, he did not get caught up in game planning for the Celtics’ possible moves.

“How they choose to make adjustments, toggle with lineups, I feel equipped to handle whatever we see,” Brown said Tuesday. “To predict they’re going to come up with some clever way to exploit T.J. just because we played him yesterday, that isn’t on my mind.”

Robert Covington will come off the bench for the Sixers.