Without Gordon Hayward, Marcus Morris, and Marcus Smart, the Celtics were in real danger of going 0-3 against Joel Embiid and a promising young Sixers team. And in the most Celtic way possible, the most unlikely hero won them the game.
The Celtics came out Horford defending Simmons. The move was an interesting wrinkle and one that most coaches wouldn’t do considering they’d be asking a traditional frontcourt player to defend an opposing point guard. However, Simmons unwillingness to shoot, made it something that was possible, with Boston opting to put their young wings on the shooter Covington and Reddick rather than Horford chase one of them. The game started off with a good flow, Irving was more assertive, the team moved better, and the Celtics made it a priority to post Simmons. Stevens stressed that he wanted Tatum to be more aggressive offensively, and it was apparent from the first quarter that it was a priority with Tatum getting 6 quick points. An interesting wrinkle of the first quarter was Stevens going to Theis off the bench first, staying big was priority. The team looked much more in control defensivley, guys communicated switches well, and near the end of the first quarter the team held the Sixers without a field goal for the last five minutes. Concerning, however, who managed to accumulate three fouls in the first quarter. The Celtics went into quarter up 24-21.
Due to the foul trouble, Yabusele got the honor of trying to contain Embiid. Brown and Yabusele each started the quarter off with three’s and due to some excellent defense, they were able to push the lead to eight (32-24). The Sixers weathered the storm a bit thanks Reddick. The Celtics defense continued to stifiling only allowing the Sixers to shoot 34.5% midway through the 2nd. That was short-lived however, after the Sixers broke out for an 8-0 run to tie the game at 37. The theme of this quarter was missed first throws, despite the Celtics impressive ability to get to the line, they missed 7 free throws. And finally the Celtics, offensive became a bit unraveled and the Sixers (along with some questionable officiating), were able to end the quarter on a 7-0 run and go up 46-50. What started off as a really impressive half quickly became frustrating with the Celtics inability to extend on their league and instead allow the Sixers to take control of the game. The ket stat? Sixers were able to score 14 points off Boston turnovers.
Sixers started where they left off in the second half scoring five quick points to push their lead to nine. In their last eleven possessions the Celtics haven’t scored and had five turnovers in the process before a Baynes putback broke the drought. After the teams traded a few bricks the Celtics were finally able to score again to get the lead down to five before a Sixers timeout. With the team desperately looking for an offensive punch, the need for Irving to look for his own offense was needed and to this point he has continuously opted to try and stay within the offense. this isn’t necessarily an indictment of Irving, more so to highlight how uncomfortable he still is with the new offense.
The poor shooting actually led the Sixers to bring in Jabari Bird for spacing. Luckily for the Celtics, the Sixers struggled equally with the scoring when Reddick checked out halfway through the 3rd. Boston was somehow able to hand around by continuing to get to the line. 10 missed free throws, 18 turnovers, but the Celtics were able to win the quarter and go into the 4th quarter down three.
With Irving at 29 minutes and Baynes at 5 fouls, the Celtics needed Shane Larkin minutes desperately. Rozier and Larkin set the tone quick with back to back three’s, and the Celtics 3-guard lineup of Rozier, Larkin, and Bird (yes, him), were able to take the lead by 2 midway by the mid-point of the 4th. In that the stretch the Celtics went 8/9 and pushed what was once a deficit to a 4 point lead. Irving came in mid-way through the second and got himself going a little bit with a couple of sweet looking jumpers. But the real story of the quarter was Shane Larkin. The European import was a perfect balance of ball-handling and shooting. The veteran was stellar defensivley, and allowed the the Celtics to manufacture good looks when they ran Irving off-ball. His second three put the Celtics up 7 in which was a back and forth game. The Celtics never looked back from there.