How will Sixers handle Boston's double-big lineup in Game 7?


To begin a film session that the 2022-23 Sixers hope is not their last, head coach Doc Rivers focused on something very basic. 

“The first film (clip) today was — I don’t know how long it took — 45 seconds of missed shots with no sound, nobody talking,” Rivers said Saturday afternoon following practice. “And I just showed it. I didn’t say a word, I just showed it. 

“And then I turned it off and everybody was like, ‘Holy goodness.’ ... And so I finally turned around and I said, ‘What do you guys see?’ And they were like, ‘We’re good.’ That was the first thing that someone said: ‘We’re good.’”

The Sixers’ Game 6 loss Thursday night to the Celtics was indeed full of uncharacteristic misses. 

With an opportunity to seal their second-round playoff series, the Sixers went 6 for 25 (24 percent) on wide-open three-pointers, per 

“It was probably our highest shot quality of the year and we just didn’t make anything,” Rivers said. 

Still, there’s a ton that will decide Sunday afternoon’s Game 7 in Boston besides just make or miss.

The Sixers’ approach against the Celtics’ double-big lineup jumps out as an important factor. In Game 6, Boston opened with an Al Horford-Robert Williams III frontcourt for the first time this postseason and took a 15-3 lead. 

While Rivers again chalked much of that up to his team’s unfortunately wayward jump shooting, Williams’ presence in the paint tends to be impactful. An NBA All-Defensive Second Team selection last year, Williams has a 7-foot-6 wingspan. He's a nimble, high-leaping, instinctive shot blocker. You can’t drive into the lane and pretend he’s not there. 

Tyrese Maxey tried several floaters over Williams instead of testing him closer to the rim. 

Williams got his hand on one of those attempts anyway.

The obvious potential downside of parking Williams inside is that he’s frequently leaving a Sixer wide open beyond the arc. 

To start Game 6, that was P.J. Tucker, who’s become a corner three specialist and made 40 percent of those shots during the regular season.

“It’s just spacing,” Tucker said on April 12. “Playing with really good players, they need space. You can make it hard on defenders to be able to help, and make ‘em pay. That’s all it is.

“I don’t love the corner, it’s just where the most space is to give people opportunity to work. Doing that has just evolved from working on it — always working on being a very good role (player) and a guy that guys want to have on their team.”

Tucker started perfectly in Game 6.

The 38-year-old generally remained willing to fire, shooting a season-high seven threes in his 20 minutes. Tucker only made one more, though. 

De’Anthony Melton also failed to punish Williams and the Celtics. He went 0 for 4 from long range.

When Boston is able to keep Williams roaming around the paint, Joel Embiid’s decisions can be slightly more challenging.

Rivers expressed confidence in Embiid’s ability to identify and hit whoever’s open, saying the Celtics “literally give you the answers.” However, those choices aren’t always easy off the dribble and late in the shot clock. 

“Jo still got his shot off whenever he wanted to,” Rivers said. “That’s one of the things I told Jo: ‘When you’re down there, you can still get it. He’s on the weak side.’

“The whole key to that is we’ve got to make sure we know where everybody’s at. And that’s no different than when you play every team. Brooklyn’s a great example. They trapped every time, so we worked every day on making sure Jo knew where everyone was at. So if they do come, you have to pass it.”

If Rivers believes the Sixers will make similar looks as in Game 6, sticks with Tucker as a starter, and doesn’t radically alter his team’s offensive schemes, that would be understandable. 

It also wouldn't be stunning or unreasonably desperate if he goes another direction. Georges Niang is an excellent, quick-trigger outside shooter and converted 52.6 percent of his corner threes this year. He knocked down two third-quarter triples in Game 6 and has often held up fine defensively in the series. 

Asked Thursday about how he rotated Niang, Tucker and Melton in the second half, Rivers said, “Simple offense-defense at times. We’ll put P.J. on the floor more when there’s one big. We’ll put Georges or Melt on the floor when there’s two. Melt didn’t have a great offensive game; he missed shots he usually makes, so we’re not worried about him. 

“I was really happy for Georges. I thought Georges competed and did a terrific job defensively. And the more we can play him on the floor, it’s never a bad thing with him offensively. So that was good for us.”

As long as the Sixers create and make wide-open shots Sunday, they won’t care who’s taking them. 

If they win for the third time this series at TD Garden, they’ll head home happy and play Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Finals on Wednesday night against the Heat.

Everyone knows what a loss would mean. 

“We understand where we’re going, who we’re playing against,” Tobias Harris said, “but as I’ve always discussed, it’s about us as a whole group collectively coming together and playing our tails off, and doing whatever we can to secure a victory.”

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