On Monday night, the Boston Celtics were the last team in the NBA to enter the loss column, falling to the Minnesota Timberwolves to drop their record to 5-1. It didn’t take long for them to find their second, as they faced off with the rival Philadelphia 76ers on Wednesday night and suffered their second defeat of the season as a late rally fell short in regulation.
It was a notably quiet night for Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown. Both seemed passive and indecisive offensively, combining to score just 27 points, and Brown was a particularly brutal 4-of-13 from the field. Kristaps Porzingis picked up some of the slack, making up for an off night against Minnesota on Monday with a game-high 29 points, and the team was happy to have the services of Derrick White, who returned after two games off to score 19. For Philadelphia, Joel Embiid was his customarily dominant self, scoring 27, and while the Sixers didn’t necessarily wow anybody, they were largely able to avoid the mistakes that plagued the Celtics all night.
The early minutes saw a bit of sluggishness in the Boston offense, as they started 1-of-8 from the field. In particular, neither team found much success from deep, starting a combined 0-of-11 from three-point range before White connected on a corner three midway through the first. The Celtics made up for this with effort and hustle, piling up fast break scoring opportunities early and often, while the Sixers countered with their typical heavy dose of Embiid (10 first quarter points). Boston entered the second quarter with a 27-22 lead.
The Celtics opened with an 8-2 run, but Philadelphia was not going to get put in a hole so easily, responding with a 9-0 run of their own to bring the lead back within one possession. This, coming without Embiid on the court, felt like a missed opportunity for the Celtics to take control of the evening. Instead, the Sixers regained a narrow lead minutes later, and ultimately rattled off a 39-point quarter to take a 61-54 lead into the halftime break.
This was a noteworthy first half for Porzingis in particular. After struggling against the jumbo-sized Timberwolves frontcourt on Monday night, the Celtics’ center looked much sharper against Embiid and the Sixers. He scored 16 points in the first half, and notably found his way to the free throw line seven times, making six and putting a little bit of doubt in the heads of Philadelphia’s frontcourt defense.
The tone of the game increasingly trended towards frustration as the second half began. Embiid and Porzingis each picked up their third fouls of the night in the early minutes, and at one point, got tangled up on one another while diving for a loose ball, leaving Embiid slow to get up after the collision. Brown picked up an offensive foul shortly thereafter, plowing through Maxey in the paint while attempting a wraparound pass. Both teams increasingly directed some angst at the officials as every possession saw some degree of physicality.
After giving up nearly 40 points in the second quarter, the Celtics’ defense cleaned things up substantially in the third. They held the Sixers to 20 points, and only Embiid seemed able to get comfortable against the improved defensive pressure. Unfortunately, on the other side of things, the Celtics’ offense wasn’t able to capitalize. Their shot quality was largely poor, with a heavy dose of contested jump shots, and they found themselves in a 10-point hole entering the final quarter of play, 81-71.
Staring down a double-digit deficit with crunch time upon them, the Celtics did not find much resolve this evening. They only pulled as close as six points of the Philadelphia lead, and any strides they made were quickly erased on the other end. The lead remained at 10 for most of the quarter as the clock ticked down, and a Tobias Harris triple with just under four minutes appeared to be the dagger.
Or so it seemed at the moment. As the clock ticked closer to the end of regulation, the Celtics found a bit of spirit. They rattled off a 10-0 run in the span of just 56 seconds, and suddenly found themselves trailing by just four points with a minute left to play. The moment of hope proved to be short lived, though — after a Boston timeout, the Sixers got the ball to Embiid, who hit an 18-foot fadeaway to put Philadelphia up six. Brown responded with his second three-pointer of the night, but a Porzingis three-point attempt to tie the game came up short, and the Sixers walked away victorious.
Next up, the Celtics return to TD Garden, kicking off a three-game homestand with their second matchup of the season against the Brooklyn Nets, this Friday at 7:30 PM EST on ESPN.