The Philadelphia 76ers have won three straight over the Boston Celtics.
In a much-anticipated second helping of the NBA’s classic rivalry, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics clashed in TD Garden on Thursday night. On the heels of strong criticism from Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal, Joel Embiid was the topic of discussion all night. He dominated.
Embiid was his most effective self — he dominated one-on-one, he passed effectively out of double teams, and he played staunch defense on the interior. The result was 38 points and a momentary silencing of his harshest critics.
The Sixers were behind a good chunk of the first half. It was close and the scores were even at multiple junctures, but it felt as though Boston had Philadelphia at arms length for much of the early going. In the second half, the Sixers were able to flip a switch.
After a quiet start, Tobias Harris began to assert himself against the Celtics’ thin-framed defenders. There were also flashes from Josh Richardson, whose defense played a big role late in the contest. Embiid was, for the most part, steadily brilliant throughout.
Another factor was Kemba Walker who, after a blazing start, was held without a field goal in the final frame. It was thanks in large part to Matisse Thybulle, who locked in and found his footing late. He did foul Kemba Walker on a three-point attempt — a foul that sparked a threatening Boston come-back — but the call was questionable and he made enough plays late to earn credit.
Down the stretch, the Sixers got clutch free throws from both Embiid and Ben Simmons, as well as game-altering defensive possessions from Richardson and Thybulle. It was a missed foul call, but Richardson forced a turnover on a late Boston inbound. Embiid put the cherry on top — he sent Daniel Theis packing at the rim on the Celtics’ last meaningful possession. The game truly ended on a blocked three from Thybulle.
The Celtics have turned into a fruitful matchup for Embiid, who has a near-constant matchup advantage in the post. He encountered some moderate resistance from Enes Kanter tonight, but not enough to deter his best game of the 2019-20 season. He responded to criticism in a forceful manner. If his game were an essay, the introduction was strong, the body eloquently drove the narrative, and the conclusion pointedly closed the book.
Harris started slow and finished strong, posting 23 points on 50 percent shooting and dropping an impressive seven dimes. Harris has rounded into form of late and looks the part of Philadelphia’s second option the halfcourt. He had several strong takes to the rim, and his playmaking was a nice touch. Not to mention some strong defensive possessions mixed in.
Simmons was a surprising non-factor given his recent production and the favorable matchup. He failed to take advantage of the Kemba Walker mismatch on more than one occasion, and his moments of strong defense weren’t enough to outshine a stagnant, laid back approach on offense. He needs to take more than six shots, and a 6:5 assist-to-turnover ratio isn’t great.
Mike Scott started in place of the injured Al Horford and produced. He gave the Sixers a much-needed lift in the first half and ended the night with five triples to his name. Scott provides spot-up shooting and hard-nosed defense, and tonight was an excellent example of his repertoire.
Thybulle led all non-starters with 29 minutes, another indicator of Brett Brown’s trust in the rookie. He had an up-and-down night on defense, but locked in late and contributed to Walker’s quiet fourth quarter for Boston. He continued his efficient shooting from deep.
The Sixers have won three straight against Boston. The Celtics are no longer Philadelphia’s prime bugaboo, the departure of Al Horford a big reason for that change. It’s a positive matchup for the Sixers, especially for Embiid.
At 19-7 (13-0 at home, 6-7 on the road), Philadelphia has earned sole possession of third place in the East. This was Boston’s first home loss of the season.