The Boston Celtics faced a uniquely difficult challenge at home in the TD Garden this evening, facing down the red-hot Philadelphia 76ers absent four of their starting five (counting Jaylen Brown, who sat out the second half due to a facial contusion). With Al Horford and Robert Williams III both absent, MVP hopeful Joel Embiid loomed as a formidable challenge, but the Celtics were able to muster a strong collective effort and defeat the Sixers, 106-99.
It was a balanced effort for the Celtics this evening, with six players recording double-digit scoring. Malcolm Brogdon and Derrick White led the way with 19 points apiece, while Jayson Tatum took a more subdued role, scoring just 12 but dishing nine assists and grabbing eight rebounds. For the Sixers, Joel Embiid and James Harden had big nights, combining for 54 points, but their supporting cast couldn’t keep pace with the all-hands-on-deck effort of the Celtics.
On the defensive end, early returns on the shorthanded frontcourt facing Embiid looked about how you’d expect. Boston’s starting frontcourt consisted of Grant Williams and the seldom-used Blake Griffin, and Embiid quickly went to work on them, compiling 14 points in the first quarter — including 10 straight during one stretch. The surprise, though, came on the other end, as Griffin and Williams put on their own little three-point shootout a little over a week before the actual thing. They combined for five threes in the opening frame, and the Celtics lead 30-27 entering the second.
Too much space for Blake pic.twitter.com/RY6w5A2WFt— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 9, 2023
The torrid scoring pace of the first quarter slowed in the second, but the Celtics maintained a balanced offensive attack that managed to push their edge ever so slightly. Of the eight Celtics to take the court in the first half, only Sam Hauser recorded fewer than two made field goals in the quarter, while only Williams recorded a double-figure scoring total (11). Embiid pushed his first-half scoring output to 19 points — with Harden adding 13 — but the Celtics added a point to their lead at the halftime break, 59-55.
REVERSE SAUCE pic.twitter.com/ntZCHRPiZU— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 9, 2023
The shorthanded Celtics lost another crucial piece as the second half began. Late in the second quarter, Brown took an elbow to the jaw in a collision with Tatum, and as play resumed after the break, it was announced that he would miss the remainder of the game with a facial contusion. Brogdon shifted into the starting lineup as the third quarter began, and Boston would have to face down the rest of this game down four of their regular starters.
Thankfully, the Blake Griffin Show wasn’t quite over yet. The 33-year-old big man pushed his point total to 15 early in the third quarter behind two more made three-pointers — his most in a game since 2020 with the Nets. He helmed a role-player-centric effort from the Celtics in the quarter, as players like Griffin, Williams and Hauser provided the scoring punch while Tatum was content to puppeteer the offense to the tune of nine assists through three quarters. The Celtics won their third straight quarter, and entered the final frame with a seven point advantage, 86-79.
N PE pic.twitter.com/YtfAeRKHF9— Boston Celtics (@celtics) February 9, 2023
The two teams traded baskets through the early minutes of the fourth quarter, before a Hauser three (his fourth of the game) pushed the Boston lead to a game-high 10 points and forced a Doc Rivers timeout. Shortly thereafter, Brogdon built on a nice night with an and-one floater. The Sixers weren’t quite finished yet, though, as Harden and Matisse Thybulle connected on consecutive threes to bring them within four points with just under four minutes to play in regulation.
With just over two minutes to play, White connected on a pull-up three-pointer over Harden to give the Celtics a 103-97 advantage. It proved to be the dagger — Tatum attacked the basket with just over 30 seconds remaining in regulation to put the Celtics up by eight, and that was all she wrote.
Next up, the Celtics stay at home for their second consecutive national television game, hosting the Charlotte Hornets this Friday at 7:30 PM on ESPN.