Five things to watch for as the Celtics adapt their postseason lineups without Gordon Hayward in the fold.
1. Brad Wanamaker is the new sixth man
The 30-year-old reserve guard got his only DNP-CD of the season against the Sixers back in February. Philadelphia used to pose a major problem for a guard like Wanamaker thanks to their size at multiple positions, but those concerns have faded now that Ben Simmons is out of the picture and Al Horford is routinely struggling on the offensive end.
The Celtics are going to want more ballhandlers and shooting threats on the floor with Gordon Hayward sidelined and Wanamaker is one of the few players off the bench that can check both of those boxes. He was solid in Game 1 (4 points, 3 rebounds, 1 assist and a block) but only played 10 minutes simply because the Celtics don’t need much of him when they are at full strength. That changes with Hayward’s injury. He’s going to be the first man off the bench now and probably can be penciled in for 20-25 minutes per night until further notice against Philly.
He has the size to hold his own against the likes of Alec Burks or Shake Milton defensively while serving as a secondary shooter/creator with a mix of starters/bench players during his stints. He should be able to take advantage of some slower-footed Sixers defenders in the pick-and-roll and punish the Sixers when they put some of their inferior defenders (Burks, Milton, Korkmaz) on him. The expectation here is that three of Tatum/Walker/Brown/Smart/Wanamaker are on the court at all times. Wanamaker will be the lowest minutes-getter in that equation but he will be counted upon to help the Celtics offense stay afloat while the stars’ rests are staggered.
2. The Celtics will miss Gordon Hayward’s defense and rebounding more than his offense in this series
The veteran swingman struggled with his jump shot in Game 1 (missing several open looks) but his help defense was outstanding. He corralled a game-high four steals by making himself available to disrupt passing lanes and anticipating where the Sixers were going to do when double teams came. That, combined with keeping Tobias Harris toward a quiet scoring night (15 points), helps the Celtics to survive an off-shooting night in the win.
With Hayward out of the picture now, their defensive versatility takes a hit, particularly once you get deeper into the bench. Marcus Smart will be starting now and should take Josh Richardson as his defensive assignment, which would open Jayson Tatum to match up with Harris. There will be no serious drop-off defensively with the starters, but when Smart/Tatum have to rest, things could get dicey in a hurry for Boston.
Wanamaker is a respectable defender but lacks quickness and there are just a lot of unproven options down the bench after him. Romeo Langford will be called upon if the Sixers are going with a more perimeter-oriented look going forward as he’s better suited to stick with shifty shooters like Korkmaz/Richardson/Milton than Wanamaker. If the Sixers go bigger, Grant Williams or Semi Ojeleye will get the call to prevent Mike Scott and/or Al Horford from taking advantage of a size gap with postups.
The Celtics are going to need 15-20 minutes out of some combination of that Langford/G. Williams/Ojeleye trio most nights, and it’s likely going to come down to what lineups the Sixers decide on for their second unit to see who will get those minutes. The other wildcard here is Langford’s injured wrist ligaments. If he’s not able to play and be effective, Stevens might have to look even further down his bench toward Javonte Green for spot minutes if the Sixers stay small. Also, G. Williams is a candidate for minutes at center over Rob Williams now after the Timelord's struggles in Game 1.
3. Will the Sixers switch up their starting five and how do the Celtics respond?
This is a fascinating subplot that was already getting consideration by Brett Brown before Game 1. The key factor here is that Matisse Thybulle is clearly the Sixers' best defender on Tatum (holding Tatum to 2/9 FG in Game 1 when they went head-to-head). The question now with Hayward out of the lineup is whether Brown is willing to shake things up by removing Horford from the fold with the starting group to help slow down Tatum out of the gate. The decision won’t have a tremendous impact since it’s likely Thybulle will be playing 25-30 minutes either way if he continues his strong play from Game 1, but it would have a domino effect for Boston’s rotations.
Thybulle guarding Tatum right away frees up Josh Richardson to guard Kemba Walker or Jaylen Brown immediately and allows the Sixers to hide Shake Milton on Marcus Smart. Horford with the Sixers starters made some sense defensively against the C’s at full strength since it provided an extra layer of protection inside. However, after Jaylen Brown had his way with Horford in Game 1, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the Sixers find a way to avoid that matchup. Bringing Thybulle into the starting five allows them to do it, although it does put another limited offensive threat on the floor that the Celtics would be able to cheat off of with double teams on Embiid and company.
My bet is we might not see this switch right away, but it’s bound to happen at some point if the Sixers fall behind by two games in this series. If it does, the Celtics could shift as well, bringing