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Celtics get bells rung by the Sixers, lose 106-96

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Shorthanded Boston continues its dance around .500 with a loss against a divisional “rival.”

NBA: Philadelphia 76ers at Boston Celtics David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Boston had a lot of things go wrong between foul trouble for Robert Williams, more than a few turnovers and defensive lapses at the very worst moments. Naturally, the Boston Celtics lost to the Philadelphia 76ers 106-96, getting swept in the season series. Joel Embiid predictably went off for the Sixers, posting 35 points and 6 rebounds. Embiid shot 20 freethrows.

Jaylen Brown (17 points) scored a lot in his opening stint, but virtually disappeared thereafter. He was engaged offensively which helped the Celtics avoid a big hole early. It was in the second quarter when the team altogether looked disengaged. With Robert Williams in foul trouble, Brad Stevens went through 12 players in just the first half.

This strategy has almost never paid off, but it’s understandable that a coach would search for answers when nothing is working. Marcus Smart (helped stabilize things by attacking the rim on more than a few occasions; although, he did hurt the team with a number of early turnovers.

Danny Green (21 points) exploded in the second quarter, hitting multiple 3-pointers on perfect shooting in the frame. Although Boston was relatively solid defensively in the first quarter and a half, a few costly mistakes on the perimeter gave the Sixers the comfort level they needed to really let loose from behind the line.

Joel Embiid dominated the first quarter, but thankfully for Boston, after Philly’s 3-point barrage, Embiid got a little trigger happy himself. That allowed Tacko Fall to have an impact on the game with a few energy plays and with his length.

Just when the Celtics were starting to get a rhythm midway through the third quarter to cut it to 10, the team’s perimeter defense absolutely fell apart as the team went down by as much as 21 points. Romeo Langford keyed in a key defensive stretch at the end of the third that helped the lead get down to a manageable 15 entering the fourth quarter.

They did nothing with that.

This game is especially annoying because the defense wasn’t even that bad. The Sixers didn’t break 100 points until late in the fourth quarter, which by the Celtics’ standards this season is pretty good. Boston invented a new way to lose with an uncharacteristically high amount of turnovers.

This was easily Robert Williams’ worst game since becoming the full-time starter, finishing with 14 minutes, 6 fouls and 4 points. He did grab 9 rebounds in those limited minutes, but he reverted to old habits of fouling everything that twitches. Jaylen Brown’s defense was targeted on multiple occasions and the Sixers capitalized on almost each one. Jayson Tatum couldn’t buy a bucket earlier in the game and wasn’t able to sleepwalk his way to 27ish points this time.

Icing Brown and Tatum’s slow starts should at least lead to a questioning of if the first half rotations should be tweaked. Having Jaylen play 12 minutes straight and then not get another shot until the third quarter doesn’t feel like it’s working. Yanking Tatum after playing him just 5 minutes doesn’t feel like it’s working either. I understand the point is to get Tatum+bench lineups, so hopefully the return of Evan Fournier next week (hopefully) will give the team more flexibility there.

The Celtics haven’t won 3 games in a row in . . . a really long time (before the All-Star break).

The Celtics take on the New York Knicks tomorrow night on the second end of a back-to-back. They’ll hopefully have Tristan Thompson back to bolster the frontcourt. There are a lot of hopefully’s surrounding this team.