Even with home-court benefit, there was little motive to suppose the Boston Celtics must be favored of their convention semifinal collection towards the Philadelphia 76ers. As Boston was struggling to grind out a seven-game first-round victory over the Milwaukee Bucks, Philly was resting up, having dispatched the Miami Warmth with relative ease. And whereas the Celtics had been down their finest scorer (Kyrie Irving), the Sixers had middle Joel Embiid back from injury to hitch all-around terror Ben Simmons because the collection’ two headline gamers. On paper, the Celtics appeared to face little probability — and the Las Vegas bookmakers agreed.
In the long run, although, Boston stored defying the percentages prefer it’s performed all season, closing out a stunning five-game collection win over the 76ers Wednesday evening. Al Horford outplayed Embiid, Terry Rozier continued his unheralded rise to playoff stardom and — maybe most significantly — head coach Brad Stevens continued his yearlong challenge of spurring this staff to play higher than ever appeared attainable. That’s been part of Stevens’s reputation since his days at Butler College, and the numbers bear it out, too: Stevens actually does stand out within the methods we will measure teaching effectiveness.
First, there are the X’s and O’s of Stevens’s playcalling, which acquired further acclaim within the Philly collection because the undermanned Celtics relied as a lot on ways as expertise to engineer the upset. Kevin O’Connor of The Ringer did a great job of detailing them here: How Stevens repositioned his bigs to scale back Embiid’s influence; how he deterred Simmons’s forays to the ring in transition; how his inbounds performs changed the course of the series. That final talent is one Stevens has been making good use of all season, with Boston rating fourth within the league in internet effectivity on sideline and baseline out-of-bounds performs (in accordance with Second Spectrum):
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Past drawing on the whiteboard, Stevens appears to already be a grasp of the artwork of squeezing wins out of a roster by way of intangible elements corresponding to match, chemistry and participant growth. If we use every participant’s projected Box Plus/Minus (Basketball-Reference’s estimate for factors added per 100 possessions) as a information,1 and if we plug in what number of minutes every participant truly logged this season — a giant consideration for a staff riddled with injuries — we’d have anticipated Boston to solely win about 38 video games this season.
The Celtics gained 55.
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That’s solely the sixth time for the reason that daybreak of the Three-point period (1980) that a staff gained no less than 55 video games whereas carrying a projected file underneath .500.2 Granted, a lot of it was because of the prompt contributions of rookie Jayson Tatum, dramatic enhancements from Rozier and NBA sophomore Jaylen Brown, and an MVP-type season by Irving — however that’s additionally the purpose. The most effective coaches, corresponding to San Antonio’s Gregg Popovich, have a repeatable tendency to place up extra wins than statistical projections say their roster ought to. With a mean of four.9 further wins per season over his first 5 years on an NBA sideline, Stevens seems to be a type of coaches. And whereas Stevens’s worth was clear to even probably the most informal NBA observers when Boston stored profitable regardless of the accidents to Gordon Hayward after which Irving, it wasn’t so clear to the opposite 29 coaches within the league: Stevens received zero Coach of the Year votes from his friends.
He’s taking it up an additional notch this postseason. The Celtics had a schedule-adjusted effectivity differential of +Three.four factors per 100 possessions in the course of the common season (5.7 factors/100 higher than projected), however they’re as much as +four.9 within the playoffs (eight.Three factors/100 higher than projected). Typically, groups who overachieve within the common season wrestle to maintain beating expectations within the postseason, the place uncooked talent guidelines and the margin for error is far smaller. However Stevens and the Celtics have solely gotten higher at overachieving because the playoffs have gone on.
Now Boston should face its hardest check but, within the type of the staff that eradicated them from final yr’s postseason — the Cleveland Cavaliers. The Cavs did their very own overachieving (perhaps …) by unexpectedly sweeping the East’s No. 1 seed Toronto Raptors, however that was solely after they misplaced extra regular-season video games than teams like the Celtics regardless of superior expertise. A month into the playoffs, that expertise is starting to spherical into kind subsequent to LeBron James, who could possibly be enjoying the very best basketball of his complete profession.
If that appears like an issue that even superior game-planning and locker-room administration can’t clear up, nicely, it might show to be. But when anybody is as much as the duty, it’s in all probability Brad Stevens.