Instant Observations: Sixers Destroy Celtics in Game 5, Take 3-2 Series Lead

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) blocks the shot of Boston Celtics guard Jaylen Brown (7) in the second half during game five of the 2023 NBA playoffs at TD Garden. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers came into TD Garden and completely silenced the Boston crowd. They defeated the Boston Celtics 115-103 in Game 5 on Tuesday night and now possess a 3-2 series lead.

Joel Embiid led the way, finishing with 33 points, seven rebounds, three assists and four blocks. Tyrese Maxey added 30 points, seven rebounds and three assists. He shot 6-of-12 from 3-point range. James Harden finished with 17 points, eight rebounds and 10 assists. Tobias Harris scored 16 points and grabbed 11 rebounds.

Jayson Tatum finished with 36 points, 10 rebounds and five assists for the Celtics. Jaylen Brown added in 24 points and six rebounds.

The Sixers can potentially close out the series on Thursday at Game 6. The Wells Fargo Center crowd will certainly be rocking. Here are some instant observations from the win:

– The Sixers simply outclassed the Celtics in this game. They played with more aggressiveness, effort and energy right from the opening tip. Considering the stakes, this ranks up there as one of Embiid’s best performances of his career. He was great on both ends of the floor. Despite lacking his touch from the mid-range for large stretches, he still put his imprint on the game offensively. While at times he settled too much for the 3-pointer, when he went inside he was dominant. The Celtics have nobody who can defend him one-on-one, especially when he asserts himself around the paint. He drew a handful of fouls, finishing the game with 11 free throws.

The Embiid-Harden pick-and-roll carved up Boston’s defense. Harden’s decision making was superb. He found the perfect balance between looking to set up others and score for himself. The pick-and-roll was particularly successful in the second half. Boston’s bigs continued playing drop coverage in the pick-and-roll. Harden dropped pocket passes to Embiid, who stepped into shots from around the free-throw line that were so wide open they resembled warm-up jumpers.

Embiid also continued to make an impact defensively. He swallowed up multiple Boston layups. His most impressive, and final, block of the night came in the fourth quarter. After turning the ball over, he sprinted back to perform a chase-down block at the rim.

Embiid’s big night was at the center of the Sixers’ win in Game 5. The Sixers are a tough team to beat when Embiid makes that big of a two-way impact, especially when the supporting cast steps up like they did in this game.

– It was night of resurgence for a pair of Sixers starters. Maxey, after struggling the previous couple games, had by far his best game of the series. He got going early on from beyond the arc, using Embiid ball screens to get himself open looks. He scored 11 points in the first quarter, helping the Sixers build an early lead. His success continued throughout the night, and he hit what was perhaps the most important shot of the night. With the Celtics clawing back into the game early in the fourth quarter and the Boston crowd regaining some energy, he quieted everyone with a gigantic 3-pointer.

It was great to see Maxey finally achieve a breakthrough in his struggles against Boston. He was not the only Sixers player to experience a resurgence. Harris, after looking like a shell of himself in this series, put together an all-around performance. He was aggressive in attacking mismatches, scoring on a post turnaround jumper over the smaller Malcolm Brogdon. At his best, Harris is able to feast on mismatches to effectively provide good secondary scoring. In this game, he also did a good job attacking the glass, leading the team in rebounds. His only issue in this game was foul trouble that caused him to barely see the floor in the second half.

– Head coach Doc Rivers made a fantastic adjustment to the rotation in this game. He played Danuel House Jr. off the bench and the move paid dividends. House Jr. was active defensively, at one point stopping three different Boston players on the perimeter on a single possession. He also made a big impact offensively, finishing around the rim with confidence. His performance was made all the more impressive by the fact he came in cold. This was just the second game of the series that he saw time on the floor. He finished with 10 points and five rebounds in 14 minutes off the bench. His excellent showing likely earned him some minutes in Game 6.

P.J. Tucker is made for postseason basketball. His impact, judging from the stat sheet, is minimal. However, he always manages to make a few key plays to swing the momentum in the Sixers’ direction. In Game 4 it was a big and-one layup after grabbing an offensive rebound late in the game. For this game, he came down with a few tough rebounds. In addition to whatever he provides on the floor, his locker-room presence is huge in setting the tone and identity of this team.

– The importance of this win for the Sixers can not be stated enough. Winning a road game in a tough environment to swing the momentum of the series was huge. In years past, the Sixers would likely have come into this game flat. Instead, they came out firing on all cylinders while building an early lead. They then kept their foot on the gas, never giving the Celtics a chance to get back into the game. The Sixers now are just one game away from being able to exorcise their Boston demon and get to the Eastern Conference finals for the first time since 2001.