Robert Williams III delivers for Celtics, Joe Mazzulla in do-or-die Game 6

PHILADELPHIA – Press conference concluded, Joe Mazzulla had a question for reporters in the room.

His Boston Celtics had just knocked out the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 2 of their Eastern Conference semifinal game, and Mazzulla, who was aware of the public criticism, said that as a 34-year-old first head coach, he were not prepared for. , more specifically, that he failed to make proper adjustments to the game – wanted to make a point.

“Nobody wants to ask about all the adjustments made from Game 1 to Game 2?” he asked reporters before storming the stage. His face was stern. It was a sarcasm, not an attempt at sarcasm.

About a week later, going into Game 6 and with his Celtics one loss away from elimination, Mazzulla decided to make a change. The adjustment would be big, with one guard – Derrick White – being swapped out for another big man. But not just any big man. Robert Williams III. One of the best guards in the league, a player whose presence on the court and chemistry with fellow big man Al Horford helped propel the Celtics to the Finals last season.

“Give us a different look,” Mazzulla replied in his pre-match press conference when asked why he changed the lineup. “At his best, Rob gives us a lift, especially on the defensive side. His presence on the sidelines, his ability to guard and rebound.”

Before the game, Majulla shared his decision with his players.

“I was happy about it,” said Celtics guard Marcus Smart. And just minutes after the tip, it was clear why. On the strength of their defense, the Celtics kept their season alive with a 95-86 Game 6 victory in Philadelphia on Thursday, setting up a must-win Game 7 at Boston on Sunday.

As for Williams, he finished with 10 points, nine rebounds and two blocks in 28 minutes of action. In those minutes, the Celtics beat the Sixers by 18 points. With Williams and Horford on the field in 19 minutes, the Celtics posted a net score of 25.1.

“I’ll tell you what,” Horford said after the game, “I’m glad Joe made that adjustment, and we did, because what a difference.”

“To be able to do that is game changing,” Smart said.

Jaylen Brown said, “It made a huge difference.”

Jayson Tatum said, “Even if he’s not blocking shots, resisting with his presence, shots or changing shots, it makes a difference.”

Taking over from the suspended Ime Udoka, Mazzulla left the set-up of the two big men that Udoka had ridden last year. The pair played together for just 332 minutes during the season, and though they beat opponents and outscored them by 15.9 points per 100 possessions, Mazzulla thoughts on building his line-up with the attacking end off the floor. I like it. He believes a good offense is the foundation of a good defense – and having a non-shooter like Williams on the floor prevents the Celtics from playing five-out. Finishing the regular season with the Celtics league no. 2 on both offenses And Defensive efficiency, it was hard to argue.

But the playoffs are different, and in the playoffs, the Celtics’ defense fell off a cliff. Entering Game 6, he had given up 114.2 points per 100 possessions, a number that would have ranked 19th in the NBA during the regular season. In Game 5, James Harden and Joel Embiid split them on the pick-and-roll.

The appearance of Williams changed all that. The Celtics stopped him at the hoop, leaving Sixers forward PJ Tucker, a reluctant and streaky shooter, open in the corner. With Williams lurking, Harden — who finished with just 13 points while misfiring 12 of his 16 shots and bouncing the ball five times — had no trajectory to the hoop. Meanwhile, Horford was able to focus on taking drop-off passes to Embiid.

The change whitewashed the Sixers’ offense. They seemed unsure how to respond, shooting just 36% from the field and letting the Celtics jump out to a 15–3 lead. The Sixers later reversed that deficit, but their offense never quite recovered.

Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said, “You know, I thought the ball didn’t move for the first three or four possessions.”

“He stopped every time,” said Embiid, who scored 26 points, but went just 9-for-19 from the field and only one assist, while also coughing up the ball four times. “So there we have to have that confidence and you You know, keep the ball rolling and find people and, you know, trust each other.”

Part of it comes from taking open shots. The Sixers had just eight of 34 deep on Thursday night, despite many of them being clean. Rivers could also compete by taking Tucker out of the lineup and inserting another shooter—during his post-game press conference, he cited Georges Niang’s Game 6 performance as something he was proud of—which would allow Williams to either Will force you to spend more time on the periphery. Or guarding Embiid. , Either way, he’s no longer lurking on the sidelines.

Meanwhile, Majulla is given 48 hours to discuss his adjustment.

“Joe is learning, like all of us, you know,” said Smart after the win. “I know he’s been hit a few times – well, you know. He needed to make some adjustments. And he did.

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. he is the author of Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Daring Trial in Professional Sports History, follow him on twitter @YaronWeitzman,

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