The NBA London 2018 game at the O2 Arena is in the books, as the Boston Celtics triumphed over the Philadelphia 76ers by a score of 114-103. Down by 22 points at one point, the Celtics methodically worked their way back into the game over the final 30 minutes, looking every bit the Eastern Conference leaders that they are, while Philadelphia showed both their talent and their limitations in a variable performance that showed what they will soon be capable of, but also why they are not yet capable of it.
In the run-up to the game, we produced plenty of material here at GiveMeSport, both editorial and video content. In particular, we looked at several players who we highlighted as being key to the outcome of the game, both stars and reserves.
So, how did the players we focused on perform?
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T.J McConnell, Philadelphia 76ers
Before the game, we called T.J. McConnell the best 76ers player you have (possibly) never heard of. Unheralded as an undrafted, unathletic back-up point guard who cannot shoot from outside, McConnell nevertheless is a maker of big plays for his team, as he was yesterday.
On the night, McConnell recorded 12 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds and 3 steals, with a knack for being everywhere on the court entirely befitting of his frenzied playing style. Despite his lack of physical prowess, McConnell still repeatedly snuck into the lane through guile, angles, screens and effort. He was every bit the player we expected to see.
Terry Rozier, Boston Celtics
As with McConnell above, we anointed Rozier as the best player you have (possibly) never heard of for the Celtics. It was purely coincidental to our logic that both are backup point guards wearing #12.
Rozier, too, was as lively and present as expected. He narrowly missed a couple of outside jumpers, and one point-blank layup, as he is wont to do. Nevertheless, Rozier scrapped, fought for the ball, used his speed to push at every opportunity, caused loose balls defensively and cleaned up loose balls offensively. Like McConnell in many ways, lacking the same calibre of penetrate-and-kick ability but making up for it with a far greater straight line speed that gives him an upside he is tarting to realise, Rozier also played like expected. That is to say, he played well.
J.J. Redick, Philadelphia 76ers and Daniel Theis, Boston Celtics
Before tip-off, we made our way to the top of the roof of the O2 Arena, which apparently is a thing you can do, and answered some of your viewer questions about the game.
We talked about Celtics backup big man Daniel Theis, an undrafted rookie fresh from the German league, and whether he deserved more minutes based on his half-season of work to date. We concluded today that because of his defence (both around the basket and when defending perimeter bigs, as well as wings on switches), plus a tenacity and sense for rebounds, that he did. Last night, Theis came through for us and proved that. He was lively and athletic, contesting at the rim, crashing the glass extremely hard, and tidying up broken plays on the offensive and with similarly engaged and scrappy play around the other basket.
We also explored the benefit of having a veteran like J.J. Redick on the team on a young team like Philadelphia. In doing so, we largely overlooked the fact that Redick himself is far from merely a coach and a steady veteran voice. He is also still a quality NBA player in his own right, averaging a career-high 17.4 points per game this season on a 60.1% true shooting percentage and a +6 net rating. Redick's 13 first-quarter points were a big part of how the 76ers were able to jump out to such a big lead, and while he went quiet just as his team did, this quality should not be forgotten. We already did that once.
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Al Horford, Boston Celtics, and Robert Covington, Philadelphia 76ers
In a piece that published on the day of the game, we looked at two star role players for each team, and how their games had not only improved over the course of their NBA careers, but also changed distinctly from the day they entered the league. Covington had become an exclusively perimeter player when he had once been an interior defender who could shoot a bit, while Horford had undergone a stark transformation from post-player, rebounder and defender to perimeter offensive hub.
One at least performed according to script. Horford passed for seven assists via hand-offs, bounce passes and kick outs, driving the ball and spotting up, even if his shooting on the night was slightly off. Horford defended around the basket, went up hard on both ends, and was his usual faultless, solid self. His +32 rating in 34 minutes speaks to the fact that things simply go better when he is around.
Covington, however was quiet, missing all but one of his spot-ups, and still turning it over quite a lot for a player who does not handle the ball significantly in the half-court. He seemingly was not able to keep up with the game-changing tenacity of Jaylen Brown, and recorded a -25 on the night in only 30 minutes. The Sixers' inability to sub in anyone for him despite his limited play on the night speaks to their own lack of depth that also will have to be addressed before they can make the next steps in their new process.
Ben Simmons, Philadelphia 76ers and Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Simmons started the game very well. He drove into the lane, either hard to the basket or floating to a mid-range spot, making his shots and being the scoring impetus his team needed to begin the game. Of note, though, is that all of these drives and shots were done via his right hand. We speculated in a piece that ran on Wednesday about which hand Simmons should shoot the ball with his right hand; in looking so significantly right-hand biased in every way other than one, the one aspect of the game he seeks mostly to avoid. It adds to the body of evidence that supports this theory, to be sure.
He then largely disappeared offensively in the second half, however. The Celtics changed the match-ups, and as Simmons saw more of the wing duo of Brown (+34 on the night) and Tatum (see below), he got out of rhythm and out of the game altogether. Simmons rarely shot in the second half, was a non-factor on the glass, and little of the offence ran through him. The Celtics played a good containing game on him, with strong switches and some traps, and Simmons did not handle it well.
As Simmons wilted, Tatum shone. Quiet offensively in the first half, Tatum rose in the second, beginning to look more for his own shot off the dribble and exploiting the mismatches a rotating Celtics defence gave him. With his agility and high release, Tatum is impossible to block, only contend, and in being the shot maker that he already is, those contentions often do not mean much. Also as solid defensively as ever, Tatum showed the signs that lie beneath, ones that will see him continue to rise up the NBA hierarchy in coming years.
Kyrie Irving, Boston Celtics
Finally, we revisit the play of Irving, who we had cited in a Tuesday feature as being the most important piece in the well-stocked Celtics puzzle.
Irving came out aggressive, yet missed some shots. He made only one of his first six shots, and also ran into trouble, committing two turnovers along the way. He stayed aggressive through the second quarter, and continued to miss shots, hitting only 4-14 at the half-time interval. Irving's aggression however did bolster the team as a whole. His attacking in any kind of semi-transition opportunity led to some good looks around the rim, even if they were missed or needed to be put back in, and he tried to exploit the attention that the defence gave him even on a night that he was not shooting that well himself.
At the half, Kyrie had 11 points on 14 shots, along with four turnovers. But he ended the game with 20 points on 7-20 shooting, 7 assists and 6 rebounds, a stat-line that would be a season-best night for much of the league. Irving didn't wilt in the face of some struggles early on, and kept up the attack, even if others were better placed on the night to take advantage.
Kyrie was not a superstar last night, but he did enough. Just like his team did.
See all of GiveMeSport's content surrounding #NBALondon 2018 here.