BOSTON — Jaylen Brown reached Joel Embiid before anyone, including officials and team security who swarmed to break up a brewing kerfuffle between Marcus Smart and Embiid. Smart’s left arm got caught in Embiid’s right elbow as Smart chased a steal and the big man fell backward.
Smart grabbed Embiid’s leg from the floor and the two argued briefly before quickly being separated. The Celtics moved on almost as quickly, one impressive feat among many in Boston’s 126-117 win over Philadelphia.
Brown’s attentiveness to the moment, stepping up for a teammate who he’s proven closer to than previously thought in recent years.
The team’s starters ability to log long minutes while pushing the pace.
To not get frustrated after Smart received a technical foul and Embiid didn’t, among other calls that irked Boston’s players.
Ask Smart, and he’d tell you he showed the most poise by not retaliating further.
“Went for the steal, basketball play, referee blows his whistle, calls a foul, I stop play, my arm’s still in there and he tries to break it,” he said. “And then, I’m the only one that gets a tech. Everybody saw it, I don’t have to keep talking about it. If I did that, I’m probably ejected, suspended, three games, four games, fines. The fact that I’m the only one that got something out of that is kind of beyond me, especially defending DPOY? And that’s how he gets treated? Like I said, it’s maturity. I could’ve cracked his head open, but I didn’t.”
While Smart jawed with Embiid, Al Horford already began huddling the team together, telling them to not let the situation impact Boston’s play. Joe Mazzulla briefly spoke with his point guard, and the situation settled despite some lingering frustrations after the game.
It wasn’t easy.
Horford even waved off an official’s early foul call and jumped around in the paint with the ball in his hands after two second half personals guarding Embiid. Brown thought Embiid tried to injure Smart. Jayson Tatum received a technical following up on that frustration before Mazzulla won a challenge to take back one of 24 foul calls against the Celtics in the win. Philadelphia received 25, a product of Boston continuing to run, pass and execute offense in spite of the extracurriculars.
“We were positive. We were emphasizing discipline, emphasizing playing the right way, emphasizing getting stops,” Grant Williams told CelticsBlog/CLNS Media. “I think everybody here was super locked in for the game. I feel like we have a mature group of guys and we’re anticipating winning every single night ... at the time, I think it was a rebound, Smart kind of had his arm locked in with Joel. Smart took a disliking to the grip of it, because his elbow was locked out, and I didn’t think the trip was that bad, because he tripped him and Joel fell backwards. I think that was more of a FIFA type of ordeal. We had to stay locked in, that’s the number one thing.”
Tatum hit a pull-up jumper and fed Derrick White going downhill in the aftermath. Smart beat Philadelphia’s defense down the floor and drew a foul on Harden posting him following a Tatum go-ahead pass.
Brown and Tatum kept attacking on offense in the half court. On defense, they ran back turnovers into easy baskets and after Smart and Embiid scuffled in a tie game. Tatum blew a kiss to the crowd moments later with the Celtics ahead by 12 points.
Smart closed the quarter taking a charge, finishing a 35-25 stretch that put the Celtics in full control entering the fourth quarter. Boston stayed committed to an effort and pace-intensive game plan where Smart, Tatum and Brown all had to play up a position without Robert Williams.
Between a new coach, game plan, multiple preseason injuries and facing various Sixers runs, the Celtics led for most of Opening Night and capped a training camp filled with change, focused on forming their new identity — running the Sixers out of the building.
“Don’t let this affect how we approach every single play, stay locked in, let it affect them,” Williams remembered Horford telling the team. “Let’s be ourselves. Let’s be who we are.”