Horford gushed about his coach’s whiteboard prowess after Stevens twice drew up after-timeout plays that delivered layups at critical junctures of Boston’s 101-98 overtime win over the Philadelphia 76ers in Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinal series on Saturday at Wells Fargo Center.
Stevens twice called mid-possession timeouts in order to draw up sets when his team looked disheveled. The first resulted in a Jaylen Brown layup to tie the game with 24 seconds to play in regulation; the second put Horford in position to muscle home a winning layup with 5.5 seconds remaining in overtime.
“Brad is a genius, man. Unbelievable,” Horford said during an on-court interview with ESPN immediately after Boston’s win to take a 3-0 series lead.
The Celtics trailed by a point when both Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons misfired with less than 21 seconds remaining in overtime. Stevens called consecutive timeouts with 8.4 seconds to go. Horford, posting up Robert Covington alone under the basket, caught a long lob from Marcus Morris and finished on the opposite side of the rim to put Boston out front 99-98.
“Sometimes he draws stuff up, and I look at it, I’m like [confused],” Horford said while playfully scrunching his face. “But Marcus delivered it, great pass, I missed some shots that I normally make there, but I made that one, so it was good.”
Horford missed the front end of two free throws with a chance to tie the game a short time earlier. He then came up with a steal on the possession after his go-ahead layup and sealed the win with two freebies.
Al Horford hits the go-ahead bucket and then steals the ball in the final seconds of overtime in Game 3.
Brown, who said Stevens drew up a “helluva playcall” when Brown produced a similar layup after catching a lob with Ersan Ilyasova defending late in regulation, marveled at the way Stevens put his team in position for key baskets.
“We got two game-winning, game-tying buckets — layups. That says it all,” Brown said. “We played hard, we fought, it was a tough environment, but when it came to an ATO [after-timeout play] to draw up, a big basket that we needed, we were getting layups. I tip my hat off to Brad Stevens.”
The 41-year-old Stevens has become renowned for his after-timeout playcalls, particularly in anticipating how the opposition will defend a certain action.
This postseason, the Celtics have run a league-high 138 after-timeout possessions, according to Synergy Sports data. The Celtics are averaging 1.029 points per play, the fifth-best mark among the 16 playoff teams through Saturday’s games. The Celtics are averaging 0.984 points per play overall this postseason, ranking eighth overall, according to Synergy data.
“That man Brad Stevens is a guru,” Morris said. “He might have the best out-of-bounds plays I’ve ever seen. He called the switch [that got Horford on Covington at the end of overtime] and knew it was going to happen.”