The Philadelphia 76ers (34-19) squared off with the Boston Celtics (39-16) on national television. In what was meant to be a statement game for the Sixers before Marcus Smart, Robert Williams III and Al Horford were ruled out, Philly lost 106-99 to a short-handed Boston squad.
Let’s break down the Sixers’ loss to the Celtics.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 28 points, 7 rebounds, 1 assist, 2 steals, 11-21 FG shooting
Not that it’s saying much considering how bad he played in the Sixers and Celtics’ season-opening matchup but Embiid looked better in this one…at least early on. He took a rebound coast to coast for a big dunk to put up 14 points in the first quarter and used his size advantage time after time. His scoring efficiency tailed off in the second half, though, and he once again came up short down the stretch of a close game.
James Harden: 26 points, 2 rebounds, 11 assists, 2 blocks 8-13 FG shooting
Harden shined in the season opener in Boston and got his great night started with some middies. He also got into the paint, slicing and dicing the defense to open up driving lanes while also hitting a few stepback threes and committing only one turnover. While the Celtics seem to have the Sixers’ number, Harden apparently has theirs.
Tyrese Maxey: 6 points, 5 rebounds, 2 assists, 3-14 FG shooting
Maxey was interestingly not the first guy off the bench tonight, though that is likely more because Doc Rivers wanted to make sure he always had De’Anthony Melton to play against Jayson Tatum. His shooting efficiency is weighed down because of a sequence in the third quarter where he missed numerous putbacks in a row but still, this was not his game.
De’Anthony Melton: 12 points, 4 rebounds, 3 assists, 5-8 FG shooting
Melton guarded Tatum and did a very respectable job. Despite the size Tatum has on him, he stayed all the way locked in and contest his shots and bodied him up. He also made a lot of crucial shots, including two triples.
Celtics player notes:
Jayson Tatum: 12 points, 8 rebounds, 9 assists, 5-15 FG shooting
Tatum helped to lead a well-rounded Celtics effort despite his abhorrent shooting night. He defended very well and his playmaking was crucial as the Sixers’ defense looked to shut off his scoring space. His teammates rewarded him with a stellar shooting effort.
Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White came through with 19 points apiece (shooting a combined 15-26 from the field) to lead the Celtics in scoring. Grant Williams and Blake Griffin each had 15 points. Sam Hauser had 14 points off the bench. Tatum, though, was the key catalyst for Boston.
Jaylen Brown: 4 points, 2 rebounds, 3 assists, 2-9 FG shooting
Brown missed his first four shots of the night. He got going more in the second quarter before taking an inadvertent Tatum elbow to the face that forced him out of the game.
Grant Williams: 15 points, 8 rebounds, 5 assists, 5-10 FG shooting
Williams did a little bit of everything for the Celtics. He shot very well from beyond the arc — and he didn’t only hit wide-open shots generated by Tatum. He put the ball on the deck a few times and hit tougher triples while providing solid, physical defense and making some great passes out of the short roll.
- With Blake Griffin and Grant Williams starting for Boston, the Celtics had Williams size up Embiid but had help defenders pinch in. Embiid didn’t work super quick to make something happen before the double team but rather felt it and then made a move, resulting in two early buckets in the paint.
- Melton stole a Tatum pass and hit a triple to start the game. He also took on the assignment of guarding Tatum in the halfcourt. Tobias Harris guarded Brown. The Sixers defense started off well, forcing the Boston stars into tough shots and generating turnovers. Griffin, however, stepped up with three triples in the opening minutes.
- The Celtics got plenty of open triples and converted on a good amount of them thanks in large part to Griffin feeling it. Malcolm Brogdon lit up the Sixers’ bench unit with nine instant points. As the starters worked their way back in, Boston took a 12-point lead.
- The Sixers fought back but Embiid was hit with a tech after showing disapproval of a no-call on a shot from the block. He later got an and-one call after taking the contact and tossing a shot over his shoulder. Philly didn’t fight all the way back but some big plays from Harden helped them go into halftime with a more manageable deficit.
- At the break, the Sixers trailed 59-55. While they made five of their 15 attempts from downtown, the Celtics shot 10-21.
- Both sides traded baskets to begin the second half and the Sixers briefly tied it up. The Celtics quickly pushed the lead back to eight after Griffin hit his fifth triple of the game in seven tries. Tatum took control and burned the Sixers with his playmaking and an emphatic dunk.
- The Celtics continued to make triple after triple, with Williams feeding shooters as well from time to time as Philly overhelped when the ball got to the middle of the floor. The Sixers never fell too far behind but it felt like they once again just had no answers on defense. Sam Hauser got in on the 3-point fun.
- Meanwhile, the Sixers hesitated on a lot of triples that seemed to be open (at least open enough to get a clean look off). Their unwillingness to let it fly hindered the flow of their offense.
- Matisse Thybulle got extended minutes in the fourth quarter in what could be his final game as a Sixer, taking the Tatum assignment even when Melton came back into the game. He came through with a big triple to cut the deficit to four in addition to some hustle plays.
- The Sixers offense once again came up empty down the stretch. They scored just one field goal in the last four minutes of the game and the lone bucket occurred when it was too late. Defensive miscues and record scratches on offense made for a rough defeat in what could have been a big win. Embiid said it years ago and it still holds true: “This is not a rivalry. I don’t know our record against them, but it’s pretty bad. They always kick our ass.”
The Sixers will return to Wells Fargo Center on Friday and face the New York Knicks.