With an ugly Game 1 loss lingering over their heads, the Boston Celtics returned to form on Wednesday night, overpowering the Philadelphia 76ers en route to a 121-87 Game 2 win. Jaylen Brown led the charge, asserting himself on both ends as the Celtics spoiled Joel Embiid’s much-anticipated return following his MVP coronation.
From the jump, the Celtics put an emphasis on the defensive end. Brown drew the James Harden assignment and made it his mission to pester the 76ers star, who put up 45 points in Game 1. Brown picked up Harden beyond half-court and refused to let him get comfortable.
Brown wasn’t the only nuisance, though, as both teams decided to ramp up their defensive pressure. In Game 1, there were only two free throws attempted in the first half. At the first timeout in Game 2 (6:48 remaining in the first), there had already been seven attempts.
It was a complete 180-degrees from Game 1, in which both teams poured on points. Defense remained the headline in Game 2, but this time around, it was for the right reasons.
By the end of the first, Boston’s offense began to find a rhythm, while Philadelphia’s struggles persisted. A pair of Marcus Smart miracle shots helped propel the Celtics forward.
Marcus Smart is a hilarious basketball player pic.twitter.com/ffhud96dgR— Pull up shoot (@NElGHT_) May 4, 2023
Meanwhile, Embiid made his presence known. To the floor, at least. Embiid recorded a nice bucket over Grant Williams but hit the hardwood more times than he had made field goals in the first.
The second quarter saw Boston start to build momentum. Within a couple of minutes, their lead ballooned to double digits thanks to their continued defensive pressure and relentless offensive activity.
Philadelphia wasn’t ready to lie down, though. Embiid’s clumsy antics on offense don’t tell the whole story, as he was a dominant defensive presence on the other end. By halftime, the big man had recorded five blocks and was seemingly on a mission to slow down the Celtics.
Unfortunately for Embiid, basketball isn’t a one-man show, and the Celtics’ energy was worlds better than their Game 1 showing.
Brown’s defensive play translated to offense, where he was phenomenal, Malcolm Brogdon started to ramp up his play, and most importantly, Boston’s defense never slowed down.
But Smart’s energy deserves a boatload of credit, too. His vigor on the defensive end carried over on offense, where he was ultra-aggressive.
Through two quarters, the Celtics were up 57-49 and had held the 76ers to 17-of-42 (40.5%) shooting overall and 1-of-13 (7.7%) shooting from deep. Philadelphia’s defensive success prevented the lead from getting any worse, but Boston was seemingly in control.
The question was, could they keep it up? (Spoiler alert: Yes.)
To open the third, both sides were playing at a frenetic pace. The energy could be felt throughout the arena as both teams seemed unwilling to give an inch.
So, the Celtics took that inch for themselves.
JAYLEN BROWN— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2023
He's heating up on TNT!
PHI/BOS Game 2 | 3Q pic.twitter.com/JE38ZlKXQc
Led by Brown and their perseverant defensive pressure, Boston’s lead crept up into the double digits again. They were scrapping for loose balls, sprinting around on offense, and forcing the 76ers to match their pace.
With 5:27 remaining in the third, Derrick White drove the length of the court after a stop and got an easy layup, inflating the Celtics’ lead to 18 points, their largest of the game, and forcing Doc Rivers to call a timeout.
Immediately after, the Celtics looked sluggish. Their apathetic play began to bleed through on offense as, for two-straight possessions, they played around the perimeter.
But in a matter of seconds, they regained control.
Drive-and-kicks from Brown, paired with better three-point shooting, helped them get back into the swing of things. A steal by Brown on a 76ers inbound play solidified Boston’s control, forcing Rivers to call another timeout and bringing the Celtics’ lead to 23.
And after that pause, the Celtics showed off their elite shooting, swelling the lead to nearly 30 points as TD Garden erupted in cheers.
The Celtics are on fire— NBA (@NBA) May 4, 2023
Williams and Brogdon go back-to-back from outside as Boston leads in Game 2!
Q4 underway on TNT. pic.twitter.com/Vw1lMKYo7R
The third quarter closed with a 92-65 Celtics lead. In Game 1, the 76ers scored 63 points in the first half and 87 through three. Game 2 was a completely different story.
Where did Jayson Tatum fit in amidst all of this? In the background.
He only attempted seven shots on the night but didn’t need to do much more. Tatum’s drives generated good looks for his teammate, and despite his foul trouble, he stayed active on the defensive end. The superstar may be the head of the snake, but when Brown and Smart are cooking like they were, he doesn’t need to overdo it.
The final frame was merely a formality. Boston gained and maintained control in the first three periods, and the fourth was no different. Embiid was on the bench to start the quarter, and when the 76ers failed to make a dent into the Celtics’ lead, that’s where he stayed. Philadelphia emptied their bench early, and Joe Mazzulla followed suit shortly after.
Gino Time hit the big screen with 2:28 left in the game.
Brown’s 25-point night led the way alongside Smart’s 15 (with a healthy energy dose), while Brogdon chipped in with 22 points on 6-of-10 shooting from distance.
After a brutal performance in Game 1, the Celtics held nothing back in Game 2, crushing the 76ers in Embiid’s return to the floor. The MVP was no match for Boston’s all-around dominance, and the series is now tied at 1-1.
The Celtics will travel to Philadelphia for Game 3 on Friday, May 5. Tip-off is set for 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.