How the Celtics slowed down James Harden, Joel Embiid in Game 2

C.J. Miles and Amit Mann breakdown how the Celtics defended James Harden in Game 2, discuss why a labouring Joel Embiid played and Boston's shooting led by Jaylen Brown.

Video Transcript


- CJ the 3. Good.

AMIT MANN: Welcome, welcome, welcome to "Strictly Hoops with CJ Miles." Today, CJ, we are doing something, but we are going to talk about--

CJ MILES: I has-- my sage was burning. I didn't want the smoke to be going into the thing. But yes, we are here. Playoff Fresco, playoff-- I got to give you a name.

I got to give you a nickname. We're going to work on that. We got to get you a nick-- yeah, we've got to get you a nickname.

AMIT MANN: OK, I'm excited about that.

CJ MILES: For the internets.

AMIT MANN: Speaking of smoke, the Celtics did smoke the 76ers last night pretty handily.


AMIT MANN: It's always a good sign for the home team when your starters don't play for literally the whole fourth quarter. They stomped them, right? So, right off the bat--

CJ MILES: And one of your starters, the best guy on your team arguably, has 7 points.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, because of foul trouble. So, that's actually-- that's separate topic. Maybe it's just like, that is what it is. It's one of those days for him, but obviously, Joel Embiid comes back. First off, MVP, salute to him, congrats. Well deserved, man, that was-- all the love he's getting from several different players throughout the NBA, Fred VanVleet reached out, Pascal Siakam, the list goes on of guys that are just giving him his credit, giving him his due because he--

CJ MILES: And his journey too.

AMIT MANN: --unbelieveable season, man. Yeah.

CJ MILES: And his journey too just from the start of this thing. Like, just the leaps that he made to be who he is is crazy. Congrats to him for that, though.

AMIT MANN: How do you think he looked yesterday? It wasn't great.

CJ MILES: Yeah, he didn't look-- so, he didn't look bad, but he didn't look like the MVP, you know what I mean? Like, he didn't look-- what's the best? He didn't look lively that's the best thing. Like, he didn't look like-- he looked like he was feeling it out in the beginning. There's one time he's backpedaling and he falls down by himself. Like, he's got the brace on.

He's got-- obviously, you don't play for two weeks and you jump into a playoff game, there's a rhythm thing, that's expected. So, he didn't look like he was out of shape or anything, he just didn't look like he was-- like he had fell into the game, really. Like, he was trying to figure it out. And you're playing against a good defensive team also. And you're stepping into the game.

So I think mentally, we got to think about you watched your team win the first game and you watched some guys play well, and now you don't want to take away from that, even though you are the MVP, I am Joel Embiid, but as a team, as a unit, I don't want these guys, I don't want to take away from what we have and what we did the first game. And I think that's the thing that comes mentally too.

AMIT MANN: His comments afterwards were revealing when he was asked, why did he play because everyone could tell that he just wasn't right. And he's like, well, I mean, I saw an opportunity for us to go up to 2-0, and I wanted to help the team.

And also he-- and this was the interesting part. He's like, the injury that I have, it's four to six weeks to recover. I'm only a couple of weeks into this.

It's like, so, there was going to be some pain, and I'm better off just, like, getting back into a rhythm as best I can so that way, come game three, I've already got the cobwebs out. I'm in a better spot. And then you can roll from there. I think that's the biggest part of this.

And I mean, he knew probably he wasn't going to feel right or there's going to be some adjustments on his end, and he's going to have to feel this whole process out. But now, game three, they've already won a game. It's 1-1, they've done their job. Now you go to game three and you've got a better-- probably a better version of Joel Embiid.

CJ MILES: No, his outlook on it is good because you think about it too, like, you know they're coming back swinging hard second game at home. So, now, you add-- you're thinking, you add me to the mix after what we did the first game, like, that we can go up 2-0, like he said on the road, and that's big, especially against Boston. And I salute the effort and his mindset in it.

But it's just, like you said, it's going to take some time, it's going to take a little bit. And he gets to go into game three at home with some confidence, with some-- in his body, not worried about his game. The game is his game. We know who he is. It's just his body and feeling it, and getting it, and getting out there and understanding what he can do to help his team.

AMIT MANN: What did Boston do differently against James Harden? And also how did they guard that Embiid-Harden pick and roll effectively?

CJ MILES: I think the biggest thing that I noticed, one, not that they haven't been guarding this way, but just seeing Jaylen being up on him early in the game. Like, any time he can pick him up early on the court, like, 3/4 court, almost full court, he's there. And he's not, like, overly pressuring him trying to steal it.

He's just there, just like trying to put a dent in his tempo. Like, I'm going to dictate you. I'm going to turn you a little bit, might stab at it, might not. I'm just going to be here. And he did a great job.

And then the one thing they do really well, Boston, is when James Harden is in the slot, like say he's in the right slot and there's a single side, there's one corner guy right here, they're forcing him to his right, sending him downhill and so he can't draw a foul. The guy that's guarding the corner guy it's a jump switch. That guy goes and the guy that was guarding Harden goes to the corner.

And that is somebody back in front of him, and I get to the shooter. So, it's not just an easy-- and it takes less help now from the weak side because somebody-- there's a body back in front of him. The rim protector doesn't have to come. Yeah, you ice him and then you send the corner guy, if it's single side.

He's not going to-- James Harden's not going to drive to the double side, like, because he knows there's not enough space. So when it's single side, and you send that guy from the corner who gets to get directly back in front of him instead of when you get the angles, that's where he draws all his fouls, or the shot blocker has got to be there early, and he gets his assist.

But when you do it this way, if that guy that was trailing gets to the corner fast enough, like they were, it makes the game different for him. And he still got to the line. He's still James Harden. He still does what he does.

But I think they just-- him and Jaylen and Malcolm Brogdon just-- they just made sure they were there. They just made sure they were there, and that's what you can do for these guys, you just try to wear them down.

AMIT MANN: Joe Mazzulla was asked, what was the mood around the locker room after game one in the days leading up to game two? He was like, we were pissed, they were angry. And Jaylen Brown, to his credit, he went about himself saying, I'm going to guard James Harden to start this game. He set the-- he set the tempo, he set the pace.

CJ MILES: On both ends.

AMIT MANN: Yeah, definitely.

CJ MILES: He was great offensively and defensively in the first half. He had, what, 13 in the first quarter, attacking the basket, mid-range shots. He's doing all type of things, right? And you can see it and you can see him out there. Emotionally, you see him hitting his chest, telling it's like-- getting him-- he's in it. Like, he wanted it, and you could see it, and he was great.

And then Tatum was great early too, obviously, got in foul trouble. But they both were attacking. And salute to Joel Embiid for his rim protection, but as much as Boston got to the paint, like, that's hard on him too. And of course, you're going to start making 3's because we're getting to the paint all the time.

AMIT MANN: Exactly. And they wanted to test him. Brogdon said that afterwards that we wanted to see, where are you at, big fella? How are you feeling? And they found out. He looked pretty good at times, but also, I mean, not playing for so long, getting back in here, probably the legs are a little bit heavy outside of the knee injury.

So they wanted to test him and they wanted to see. Coach Mazzulla says he wants the Celtics to get up 40 3's a game. They were pretty close to that.

CJ MILES: They got them up last night. They got them up.

AMIT MANN: Exactly. So, against Joel Embiid and his drop coverage, and we just talked about his rim protection and the imposing figure that it is, it's hard sometimes to get that rim pressure when someone like him is there. So, what are the methods of the Celtics to ensure that they're getting off those 3's, which are really important to their offense?

CJ MILES: I mean, there's two ways we attack this thing, right? The first is Grant Williams and Horford make 3's, right? If he's dropping that much and we come off and we throw it back and they make 3's. The other thing, though, also, is they keep attacking Joel like he's doing because even if he's deferring shots, he's got to go defer that shot.

Now we have an offensive rebounding advantage. So we keep attacking and he's got to keep on trying to come block these shots because we're getting by people and getting to the rim, the offensive rebounds are open.

There's a couple of 3's made off offensive rebounds last night. There's a couple of put-backs made off. And those plays are more deflating than anything because you feel like you play defense for 20 seconds and they get a easier shot after the 20 seconds to knock down, or you have to play another 10 seconds of defense after, whatever it may be.

I think those two things they're doing is, like, when it's Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, they attack him because their size and they feel like they have a chance to finish at him when they do that. And they're making him work also. So even if he is blocking some shots in the first, he's still-- that's work that he's got to do, and he's not going to beat early the whole game if you're making him work like that.

AMIT MANN: It's cool seeing Grant Williams getting back into the rotation. He's been in and out all season. So that's good for him. I like what Al Horford does, and he shot a lot of 3's yesterday, didn't make many.

However, you can probably bank on he's going to have a game where if he shoots 10 3's per game throughout the series, he's going to have one game where he makes five, or something like that.

CJ MILES: He's going to make five or six. He's going to make five or six, for sure. He might make seven. Like, he's capable.

Especially because they're staying still, a lot of them are really good looks. Oh, he had good looks yesterday. A couple, you could tell he was just being aggressive because that was the game plan. He caught and shot so fast.

And I think that's also to make Embiid work. Make him get from that spot to get back out to me. Make them do-- make them work defensively. And like you said, we still have the offensive rebounding advantage just because now we got these long rebounds, but with five out and the big guys are running around. I think you just keep the pressure up, and I think they played with a good pace.

Malcolm Brogdon was great. Big, big, big push, big punch off the bench, right? Sixth Man of the Year, obviously, like, he was that.

AMIT MANN: What I like about the Celtics, and this is the weapon of having pull up 3-point shooters like Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum, is that you can just run some dribble handoff off with Al Horford and they only need a little bit of airspace to get that shot off, and it's a pretty high percentage look because they are so good. And they can run that in a lot of cases.

And unless Joel Embiid is going to come up to the level, that shot's going to be open for them. And you know, with Embiid, sometimes he's late switching, other times he's dropping. It's kind of a bit of the chess match that they're playing on the 76ers side of when it comes to their defense. But again, making Joel Embiid backpedal, making him come up to the level, getting him away from the basket is what the goal is.

CJ MILES: Like you said, just testing him. Making him move, making him-- show him every type of thing we can attack him with. And another thing is, those guys are mid-range shooters too. So if he keeps retreating, Jaylen Brown is capable of scoring in the mid-range.

Jayson Tatum is capable of scoring. Brogdon is scoring. Marcus Smart makes floaters. Like, these guys have guys-- then you got White getting his rhythm back yesterday. Like, you got people coming back into this thing. Grant Williams, like you said. That makes this dangerous for them, especially if they're going to be able to get to the paint the way they're getting to the paint.

They are touching the paint a lot. Like, I'm talking, if you watch that first quarter again, everybody's putting their head down trying to get down-- get down hill with Joel there or not, they're going.

AMIT MANN: So you got Tyrese Maxey, he's rolling. Tobias Harris, he knows his role and he's going to be doing it pretty well, you would think, going into game three. James Harden, he missed shots, a lot of them makeable for his standards. Joel Embiid, you see where he's at.

But in the end, you're the 76ers, you're feeling pretty good about going home now. So how do they penetrate this Boston defense, which was really locked in yesterday? But I mean, going home, you're going to think that the 76ers are going to play better offensively.

CJ MILES: Yeah, I'm not worried about my main guys. They're going to be-- so I'm not worried about James. I'm not worried about Joel. They're going to figure it out. They're that good. I'm not-- like, if I'm not overly thinking that part.

I'm thinking of how to get my bench better. Like, they have capable guys that can give them sparks off the bench. And you look at the bench stashes, they're not-- they don't give them anything yesterday.


CJ MILES: And then I'm looking at maybe to get Tobias more looks, more activity because he is playing well. I don't want to overload him and ship the whole thing where we-- but just get him some more stuff and get him rolling because if he-- if it's just his night and he has to have us a 35 point night, which he's capable of, that's a big load taken off of Joel finding his rhythm and James having to do some of the things he doesn't want to do. Other thing is, PJ, they're leaving PJ a lot.

AMIT MANN: He's going to have to make a decision, man.

CJ MILES: And it's like, him, and so do we put Niang in who shoots the ball really well, but then we give up a lot of defensive things that we give-- they're basically like two different players, like the opposite.

AMIT MANN: They're going to attack him. Yeah, they're going to attack him.

CJ MILES: They're going to attack him. So we're going to have that problem. So we've got to figure out ways to shift it, or PJ just got to shoot it. He's passing up shots to try to go drive on Robert Williams. The reverse layups gets blocked. Like, just shoot the 3. Like, that's not his strength.

Like, to drive left, the reverse layup after the like-- I'd much rather that corner 3 come up, go up, than that. Because at least we get a shot attempt.

AMIT MANN: And it's in the flow of the offense too.

CJ MILES: And you're capable.

AMIT MANN: It's a good shot. Yeah. Yeah.

CJ MILES: And we believe in you. I believe in him making that shot. I'm not even on his team. I'm not even playing. I think that's a capable shot for him. I don't know what it is.

And maybe he's not confident right now, but whatever it is, but I think he's got to take that shot. I'm not saying he's got to be uber aggressive and take bad ones, but the ones that come in the flow, they got to go up. Like, it's no-- if they're not going to go up, we got to put somebody there that's going to shoot them because it's the only way we're going to balance the floor back.

AMIT MANN: They know. They know.

CJ MILES: To test you.

AMIT MANN: Exactly.

CJ MILES: Like they did Grant Williams last year. And then Grant Williams shot the letter off the ball. Got all those open 3's, the big games, like, have a night. Why not?

AMIT MANN: Imagine PJ Tucker hits four 3's in game three, whoo.

CJ MILES: And that's not out of the question. Four is not out of the question for him, especially when the ones he's getting looks at.

AMIT MANN: It's going to be interesting. CJ, thanks for the chat. Game three, Celtics-76ers, should be a fun one. This series is going to be a fun one.

CJ MILES: Yeah, It's a good series.

AMIT MANN: It's going to go the distance. There's no reason to think otherwise.

CJ MILES: One more shoutout, though. Like, Tyrese Maxey is nice. We said his name. We said he's right. He's so nice.


CJ MILES: He's really, really good, man. Like, his game is-- he's developing into like a really, really good scorer, not just like-- he's got a lot of stuff he's putting in his game. Shoutout to him, man.

AMIT MANN: And the amount of times that off a score, he's pedal to the metal down the court scoring in transition in a heartbeat.

CJ MILES: He's scoring on made baskets crazy too. Like, he's getting downhill. He's attacking people. He shoots it well. Like, he's got a lot in his game and he's still adding. He's still young, real young.

AMIT MANN: All right, CJ, good chat, bro. Dallas boy?

CJ MILES: Yeah. So, funny story. His dad was my freshman high school basketball coach.




AMIT MANN: That's a nice way to end it right there.

CJ MILES: Yeah, that's a good one. Shoutout to the Maxeys, man.

AMIT MANN: "Strictly Hoops with CJ Miles." Thanks, everyone, for watching. We'll talk to you soon.

CJ MILES: Yes, sir. Thank you all.

- CJ the 3. Good.