The Celtics-Sixers ‘confetti’ game was only two years ago, but it feels like a lifetime at this point. Currently, there are just six players left from that Celtics roster and only four of those guys (Jayson Tatum, Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown, Semi Ojeleye) were in uniform that day with Gordon Hayward and Daniel Theis out with season-ending injuries that entire postseason.
Yet, in a world devoid of playoff sports, for the time being, this easily stands out as a game that is worthy of a revisit a mere 24 months later. To this day, it stands out likely as Brad Stevens’ best crunch-time coaching performance in the NBA as he guided the undermanned Celtics to their only road win of that near-run to the NBA Finals.
The Celtics headed to Philly up 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Finals for a matinee affair on May 5, 2018. The heavily favored Sixers were looking to get back on track while the Celtics were trying to nurse Brown back to full health as he worked his way back from a hamstring injury. Brown came off the bench in this one with Smart getting the start.
The back-and-forth affair featured plenty of standout efforts from the C’s young guard in Tatum (game-high 24 points), Rozier (18 points, 7 rebounds) and Brown (16 points, 9 rebounds). Al Horford also was an overtime hero with seven points in the period and terrific defense down the stretch against Joel Embiid. Despite all of those performances, the C’s don’t win this game without Stevens pulling the right strings and using unconventional tactics during crunch time on multiple occasions.
Sixers lead 87-85, 30 seconds left in regulation
Marcus Morris, in the midst of a 3-of-14 shooting night, finds himself with the ball in the corner matched up against Ben Simmons. As he begins to isolate with the shot clock winding down, Stevens decides he doesn’t want to let a cold Morris ruin what would likely be the C’s best chance at tying the game. He shouts at an official for a timeout just as Morris throws up a brick against Simmons, giving him a chance to draw up a play.
Sixers lead 87-85, 26 seconds left in regulation
After putting a stop to the Morris jumper, Stevens drew up a gem that took advantage of the Sixers’ switching strategy. Brown cut from the corner to set a screen for Morris, but he never set it. Brown’s man (JJ Redick, instinctively switches onto Morris who is headed towards the corner as a decoy. Instead of setting the screen, Brown cuts to the rim with a step on Ersan Ilyasova, sealing him in the process. The smaller Brown had the athleticism advantage on Ilyasova and beat him to the lob pass from Tatum. He uses a head fake and finished the layup. The Celtics got a layup instead of a contested mid-range jumper. That’s the power of a savvy play call and terrific foresight against a switching Sixers scheme, while also going after one of the Sixers’ weakest defenders (Ilyasova in the process).
“That’s a hell of a play call from Brad Stevens,” Brown declared after the game. “They’d been switching all game, he called a play, I sealed a switch and scored a layup.”
Even though Morris had the ball taken out of his hands during the sequence, he couldn’t help but be in awe of his head coach.
“That man Brad Stevens is a guru,” Morris said in the locker room. “He might have the best out of bounds plays I’ve ever seen. He called the switch and knew it was going to happen.”
Sixers lead 98-97, 14 seconds left in OT
After the Sixers miraculously tied things up at the end of regulation on Marco Belinelli’s buzzer-beater (that led to the premature confetti drop when it was ruled a 2-pointer), the Sixers looked ready to take command. The hosts built a two-possession lead on multiple occasions in OT, including with a minute left. However, the C’s fought back behind the scoring of Tatum and Horford to cut the deficit to 98-97 in the