It took a monster effort from Joel Embiid, but the Philadelphia 76ers finally were able to defeat the Boston Celtics this season. The Sixers beat the Celtics 103-101 on Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Embiid carried the Sixers, scoring 52 points on 20-of-25 shooting to go with 13 rebounds and six assists. It was his third game with 50-plus points this season. James Harden added in 20 points, five rebounds and 10 assists.
The Celtics were led in their losing effort by Derrick White, who finished with 26 points, seven rebounds and four assists. Jayson Tatum totaled 19 points, six rebounds, six assists and three steals. The Celtics played without Jaylen Brown (low back pain), Robert Williams III (left knee injury management), Payton Pritchard (left heel pain) and Danilo Gallinari (left knee ACL repair).
The Sixers have three games remaining in the regular season. Their next game is a home matchup with the Miami Heat on Thursday night. Here are some instant observations from the win:
– This game was perhaps Embiid’s best chance to try to end the MVP debate. From the opening whistle, he played like it was, putting together one of his most dominant games of the season. Embiid gave the Celtics issues all night long. Boston began the game with the smaller Grant Williams defending Embiid while also using Al Horford as a roamer in an effort to offer help defense. The results were brutal for Boston.
Embiid is too good anymore to allow teams to get away with playing that kind of defense against him. He went to work on Williams in the post, drawing a foul and knocking down a pair of mid-range jumpers in the Sixers’ first few possessions. The big fella was unstoppable, scoring 18 points (6-of-7 shooting) and grabbing seven rebounds in the first quarter alone. For most players, that would be a good stat line to finish a game with. It was incredible to witness Embiid tally those numbers in just one quarter of action. He went into halftime sporting a double-double of 24 points and 10 rebounds.
The dominance did not stop in the first half. Embiid carried over his excellent play into the second half, never showing any signs of slowing down. He was on fire, making multiple tough mid-range jumpers regardless of what the defense put in front of him. His decision making was quick and on point, with him getting to his spot often before Boston could run a double team over in his direction. He also victimized Luke Kornet on a play late in the third quarter, driving through and powering over him for a dunk.
ONE. HAND. SLAM. pic.twitter.com/jdbZbk95Fo— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) April 5, 2023
ONE. HAND. SLAM. pic.twitter.com/jdbZbk95Fo
Unfortunately, nobody else on the Sixers outside of Embiid really produced much. Harden had some brief success in isolation in the second quarter. The Embiid-Harden duo combined to score 39 of the team’s 53 first-half points. For the remainder of the game, it was the Embiid solo show. The Celtics used to give Embiid fits, but he has progressed his game to the point where he should always have the upper-hand regardless of the opponent.
– Harden needs to be better as a scorer than he has been over the last few games. He scored 10 points in the second quarter, using the 3-pointer to open up the rest of his game. However, he did not make much of an impact as a scorer throughout the remainder of the game. He relied a bit too much at times on his outside shooting, failing to effectively penetrate into the paint for large portions of the game. His final stat line ended up being alright, but his performance left a lot to be desired.
– The Sixers’ supporting cast was brutal against the Celtics, there’s no other way to say it. Tyrese Maxey had one of his worst performances of the season. He struggled to create separation on the perimeter from Boston’s wing defenders, and when he did the shots were not falling. He also made numerous mistakes, from poor fouls to bad turnovers. Tobias Harris also struggled mightily, making very little impact in his 34 minutes on the floor. For most of his minutes, you would not have been able to tell that Harris was even in the game. The pair combined to score 10 points on 4-of-16 shooting. The Sixers will need way more from both of them in a potential postseason matchup with the Celtics.
– P.J. Tucker connected on three huge 3-pointers in the final few minutes of action to help push the Sixers to the win. He does not provide much scoring on most nights, but it was nice to see him catch fire and punish Boston for leaving him open in the corner. Relying on him to produce like this in big moments is not a good formula. However, Tucker is a veteran. There is always the chance he will be able to dig deep and find an extra gear when the games truly matter.
– There were a few things to take away from the Sixers’ bench performance. Jalen McDaniels is getting into a rhythm off the bench, and it could not come at a better time. He put together another good night, knocking down a pair of 3-pointers and playing good defense. Having someone with his length, athleticism and defensive prowess off the bench will be huge in the postseason.
Georges Niang, once again, proved that he is a boom-or-bust player. When his shots are falling from long distance, he can bring some major positives on the floor. However, he is unplayable when the shots are not falling. Against the Celtics, he went scoreless while grabbing two rebounds in 16 minutes. Lineups with McDaniels, Danuel House Jr. and Paul Reed have had some success in a small sample size. Why not go to them more often when Niang is struggling?
– The last 30 seconds or so of this game was some of the most embarrassing basketball I have ever seen the Sixers play. It looked like they were attempting to find every way possible they could choke the game away. A win is a win, but the Sixers left everyone who witnessed the near debacle with a sour taste in their mouth.