BOSTON — The Philadelphia 76ers took an odd approach to defending the shorthanded Celtics on Wednesday night, leading to a season-best performance from little-used veteran Blake Griffin.
Boston entered the matchup extremely shorthanded, missing starters Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and Al Horford. Those absences thrust the likes of Grant Williams and Griffin into the starting lineup, which must have served as a signal for Philadelphia to take it easy on the defensive end, as they routinely left shooters open throughout the contest.
As demonstrated by the Celtics’ 106-99 win, it wasn’t a sound strategy.
Griffin in particular made the most of Philly’s lazy defensive effort, making his first three attempts from beyond the arc, eventually finishing with 15 points on five made 3-pointers.
“When a team leaves you open like that, you’ve just got to try and make them pay,” Griffin said postgame. “I’ll shoot open shots all night. It was nice to see some of them go through.”
When made aware of 76ers guard James Harden’s comments about how leaving him open was the strategy, Griffin slightly changed his tune.
“I don’t really take it as disrespect,” Griffin said. “It hurt them. That was their game plan. Obviously, Doc (Rivers) makes that game plan. They didn’t adjust, which has been sort of their thing. No disrespect though.”
It wasn’t just Griffin who made the most of it, however. An injury to Jaylen Brown, which is expected to sideline the two-time All-Star, thrust Sam Hauser into the lineup and resulted in a 24-minute second half for Malcolm Brogdon. Those two, alongside Grant Williams, connected on 10-of-12 shots from beyond the arc, resulting in an irate Rivers calling out his own team for their lack of effort defensively.
If Horford and Williams III were both available, there’s little doubt that Griffin would never have been asked to play such big minutes. He did see game action in just five of the Celtics’ previous 15 games, after all.
That wasn’t the case, however, and adapting to his new role is what helped the six-time All-Star show up when his team needed it.
“My role is sort of just be ready to fill in the gaps,” Griffin said. “I’m just kind of a utility guy. I just go in there and it’s about energy… If you want to still play and be a part of a team like this, you’ve got to accept a role and understand where you’re at.”