Wednesday, May 3, 2023

Joe Mazzulla on Celtics defense against James Harden in Game 1 loss: 'Hindsight's always 20/20'

James Harden turned back the clock if even for just one night in the Celtics 119-115 Game 1 loss against the Philadelphia 76ers at TD Garden.

The former league MVP tied a playoff career-high of 45 points on 17-of-30 from the field and 7-of-14 from deep, including what ended up being the game winning 3-pointer in the final seconds.

With the C's leading 115-114, Harden waited for a screen to have Marcus Smart switch off of him, leaving Al Horford to defend the All-Star guard -- before taking a step back to burry a 26-footer, putting the Sixers ahead for good.

Despite the outcome, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla says he has no regrets about having Horford switch to guard Harden on the game's deciding jumper.
"Al is one of our best defenders. He's been all year," Mazzulla said during his postgame presser. "[Harden] made a big shot."
Harden's shot capped off a great offense outing for Philly, who hit 50.6% from the field and 17-of-38 (44.7%) from behind the arc, not exactly a good defensive effort on the Celtics part, even without the Sixers' best scorer in Joel Embiid. Boston also allowed Tyrese Maxey (26 points on 10-of-24 shooting), Tobias Harris (18 points on 8-of-16 from the field) and De'Anthony Melton (17 points on 6-of-10 from the floor) to punish them on defense.

According to Mazzulla, it was due to Philadelphia's other scorers throughout the night that led to him deciding not to call for a double-team on Harden when it came to the game's most crucial play.
"That's the big catch," Mazzulla said on potentially doubling Harden down the stretch. "That's what you do on Harden: Do you want to try to throw an extra guy at him? I called one in the first half and gave an open 3 to [Georges] Niang and we did one again at the end of the third quarter and we gave one to Harris.

"So, their spacing was really good and when they have shooters, they put you in a bind. Are you going to be shifted off of them? In the first half, we were shifted a little bit more and gave up some catch-and-shoot shots to their role guys. Credit to them, they knocked them down."

Still, even with the 76ers hitting shots all game, Boston didn't double Harden in the second half to which Mazzulla says his players "adjusted well," even in a upset loss at home.
"We doubled in the first half and they had six points off double teams on Harden. So, hindsight's always 20/20," Mazzulla said. "If we didn't double him [and they missed their shots], it would've been great defense. If we did double him and they did hit their shots, it would've been, 'Why did we double him?' We doubled twice in the first half on my call and they scored both times on it."
The Celtics will look to make even more adjustments accordingly and avoid a 2-0 series hole Wednesday night, when Game 2 tips-off against the Sixers at 8:00 ET on TNT

Joel Pavón

Photo used courtesy The Boston Globe

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