Instant Observations: Sixers Fall to Celtics in Heartbreaking Fashion

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid (21) scores a basket past Boston Celtics center Al Horford (42) during the second quarter at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The Philadelphia 76ers were defeated by the Boston Celtics in a tight 110-107 contest on Saturday night at the Wells Fargo Center.

Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 41 points, 12 rebounds, five assists and three blocks. Tobias Harris added in 19 points on 8-of-12 shooting. The Sixers shot 28-of-35 from the free-throw line compared to 8-of-12 for Boston. Dewayne Dedmon (left hip soreness) missed his second consecutive game and has yet to make his Sixers debut.

Jayson Tatum finished with 18 points (including the game-winner), 13 rebounds and six assists for Boston. Jaylen Brown scored 26 points. Derrick White added 18 points on 7-of-9 shooting off the bench.

The loss drops the Sixers to 39-20 on the season and cements their season series loss to the Celtics. Their next matchup is at home against the Miami Heat on Monday night. Here are some instant observations from the loss:

First Quarter:

  • Harris built off his solid performance in the win over the Memphis Grizzlies on Thursday. He knocked down a pair of triples in the opening few minutes of action. Embiid later found him on a good back cut for an open dunk. Harris found some success attacking the basket, including making a driving layup against Grant Williams. He scored 12 points on 5-of-7 shooting in the first quarter.
  • P.J. Tucker has stepped up his play over the last few weeks. He is shooting efficiently from 3-point range, albeit on low volume, while managing to grab a few key rebounds every game. He finished the game with seven points and a season-high 16 rebounds. The hustle he brings to the floor, especially on the glass, is refreshing for a team that struggles to consistently rebound the basketball.
  • The Sixers’ defensive rotations were crisp for much of the opening quarter. However, Boston was hot from beyond the arc. The Celtics shot 4-of-7 from 3-point range in the first quarter, but the Sixers still held a 30-28 lead.

Second Quarter:

  • The James Harden-led bench lineup produced some incredibly ugly minutes early in the second quarter. They relied too much on the 3-pointer, which was not falling for them. On the other end, Boston was getting whatever they wanted from all over the floor. Paul Reed put together a near disastrous four-minute stint, recording one rebound and a steal while committing two turnovers. In an example of the kind of possessions the Sixers were having, Harden passed it to Reed in the corner as the shot clock was ticking down. Reed then stepped out of bounds while attempting to drive to the basket. Boston, beginning late in the first quarter, went on a 20-4 run (including 11-2 against the second unit) to take a 39-32 lead with 8:28 remaining in the second quarter.
  • Embiid continuously victimized Al Horford and whomever else the Celtics sent to defend him. He played with physicality, punishing Horford in the post. The Celtics throw a ton of double teams his direction, and he mostly did a solid job reading them and getting the ball around to the open man. His ability to handle those double teams has improved a lot over the past season or two. The big fella scored 12 points in the second quarter to help the Sixers take a 56-50 lead into halftime.

Third Quarter:

  • The Sixers utilized the 3-pointer to help them get off to a hot start in the second half. Harris, Harden and De’Anthony Melton all knocked down a shot from beyond the arc. They went on an 11-2 run in the first 3:39 of the half, expanding their lead to 67-52.
  • Horford, after going scoreless in the first half, exploded to help Boston get back in the game. The Sixers elected to not defend Horford out at the 3-point line. He made them pay, shooting 4-of-4 from beyond the arc in the third quarter. The strategy worked in the first half with Horford missing all three of his attempts from long distance. However, the Sixers should have been quicker to adjust once it was clear Horford got the hot hand. The Celtics ended the third quarter on an 18-3 run.

Fourth Quarter:

  • The Celtics continued to take advantage of whenever Embiid was off the floor. Boston outscored the Sixers 11-5 in the first few minutes of the fourth quarter. Reed began the quarter on the floor but was replaced by Tucker just over a minute into the quarter. Head coach Doc Rivers previously mentioned using Tucker as a small-ball center, so expect to see this more often in the final few months of the season.
  • Embiid near single-handedly kept the Sixers in the game throughout the fourth quarter. There were a handful of consecutive possessions that either ended with an Embiid bucket or him drawing a foul. On a night where Harden and Tyrese Maxey combined to score 29 points on 9-of-26 shooting, Embiid’s production was critical. He nearly made a full-court heave to send the game to overtime, but the ball did not leave his hands before the clock expired. Regardless, it was another dominant night for the big man.
  • The Sixers’ defense on Tatum was brilliant for long portions of the night. Whether it was Harris or Melton, the Sixers managed to keep Tatum out of rhythm. Harris had a strong night offensively, but his subtle impact defensively perhaps has a greater impact. He has done a tremendous job putting in the work over the last year to become a more solid defender. However, Tatum did end up with the last word when he drilled the game-winning 3-pointer from the top of the key with 2.2 seconds remaining.
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