Robert Williams III delivers to the Celtics, Joe Mazzola in a do-or-die 6

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Philadelphia – The press conference is complete, and Joe Mazzola has a question for the reporters in the room.

for him Boston Celtics have just got rid of Philadelphia Seventy Sixers into Game 2 of the Eastern Conference semi-final game, and Mazzulla, aware of the general criticism being leveled at him — that, as a first-time coach at 34, he wasn’t ready for this moment, and more specifically, he was failing to make amends. The occasion in the game – He wanted to make a point.

“Nobody wants to ask about all the mods we made from Game 1 to Game 2?” reporters asked before storming the stage. His face was stern. This was scathing rather than an attempt at ridicule.

About a week later, Mazzola went into Game 6 and with the Celtics hovering and one loss away from being eliminated, Mazzola decided to make a change. This adjustment will be big, as the guard switch will be – Derek White – to another big guy. Not just any big guy. Robert Williams III. One of the best defenders in the league, a player who gets on the field and pairs well with a big man Alhorford Helped last season’s Celtics reach the Finals.

“They gave us a different look,” Mazzola answered during his pre-match press conference when asked about the reason for the line-up change. “At his best, Rob gives us a boost, especially on the defensive side. Just his presence on the edge, his ability to guard and rebound.”

Before the match, Mazzola shared his decision with his players.

“I was happy about that,” Celtics guard Marcus Smart He said. And after a few minutes of alarm, it was clear why. In the back of their defense, the Celtics kept their season alive with a 95-86 win in Game 6 in Philadelphia on Thursday, setting up a 7-win or home game Sunday in Boston.

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

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

“For Rob to be there, it’s a game changer,” Smart said.

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

“Even if he doesn’t block shots, or exist, or intercept shots, or change up shots, it makes a difference,” Jason Tatum He said.

Upon taking over from suspended Ime Udoka, Mazzulla went away from the large line-up Udoka had faced the previous year. The pair have only played 332 minutes together during the season, and while they have beaten opponents, scoring 15.9 points per 100 possessions, Mazzola prefers to build his lineup with the offensive floor end in mind. He believes that good offense is the foundation of good defense — and having a non-shooter like Williams on the floor prevents the Celtics from playing five players. With the Celtics finishing the regular season ranked second in the league in both offense offense And Defensive efficiency, it was hard to argue with.

But the playoffs are different, and in the playoffs the Celtics defense fell off a cliff. Entering Game 6, they had surrendered 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 They pick it up at pick and roll.

Williams’ presence changed all of that. The Celtics stashed him by the hoop, leaving the Sixers ahead PJ Tucker, hesitant and complex shooter, open in the corner. With Williams watching, Harden—who finished with just 13 points while missing 12 of his 16 shots and turning the ball over five times—didn’t have a passage to the hoop. Meanwhile, Horford was able to focus on hauling access passes to Embiid.

The change caused the Sixers to attack. They seemed unsure how to respond, shooting just 36% from the field and allowing the Celtics to jump out to a 15-3 lead. The Sixers later erased that deficit, but their offense never recovered.

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

“He pulled the ball every time,” added Embiid, who scored 26 points but was only 9-for-19 from the field. “That’s where we have to have that confidence, you know, keep moving the ball and finding players and, you know, we trust each other.”

Part of that will come from dropping open shots. The Sixers continued on just eight of 34 deep looks Thursday night, even though several of them were clean sheets. Rivers may also counter by removing Tucker from the lineup and inserting another shooter – during his post-game press conference he scheduled George Niang Game 6 performance as one he was proud of – which would force Williams to either spend more time on the perimeter or guard Embiid. Either way, it no longer lurks at the edge.

In the meantime, Mazzola has a 48-hour window where his amendments are discussed.

“Joe is learning, like all of us, you know,” Smart said after the win. “I know he’s been killed off a lot—and rightfully so, you know. He needs to make some adjustments. And he did.”

Yaron Weitzman is an NBA writer for FOX Sports. is an author Tanking to the Top: The Philadelphia 76ers and the Most Daring Operation in Professional Sports History. To follow him on Twitter @employee.



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