After splitting a pair of games in Boston, the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics played their first of two straight games in Wells Fargo Center. In Game 3 of the second-round series, the Sixers got a great game from the MVP but lost 114-102.
Let’s break down Game 3 between the Sixers and the Celtics.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 30 points, 13 rebounds, 3 assists, 4 blocks, 9-19 FG shooting
After getting reacclimated in Game 2 and receiving his MVP trophy ahead of the game, Embiid looked way more like himself. He went right at the Celtics defense when the room was there and made good, crisp decisions with the ball when he got doubled. The paint stayed locked down, too. Although he wasn’t automatic from the mid-range, he made up for it with forceful drives and great free-throw shooting. A fantastic showing wasn’t enough for him to overcome his teammates’ struggles.
James Harden: 16 points, 6 rebounds, 11 assists, 3-14 FG shooting
Bad Harden game. He tried getting to the charity stripe but the officials weren’t going for it as much as he wanted. He set up his teammates but couldn’t get anything going himself and gave the ball up a TON. Many of his passes went to areas where there were no teammates ready to catch them.
Tyrese Maxey: 13 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 blocks, 4-16 FG shooting
Maxey couldn’t get much going despite having some really good looks. He turned away some other openings that could have resulted in good looks or a kick-out. His weakness finishing through contact and with his left hand showed.
Celtics player notes:
Jayson Tatum: 27 points, 10 rebounds, 5 assists, 2 steals, 10-20 FG shooting
Coming off of a poor performance, Tatum led the charge for the Celtics early on. He knifed through the Sixers defense with impressive body control and played stingy defense. In the third quarter, he made a quick trip to the locker room after falling into the stands but stayed in the game. He was brutal from beyond the arc but very good everywhere else.
Jaylen Brown: 23 points, 7 rebounds, 5 assists, 8-18 FG shooting
The first-quarter scoring god didn’t make an appearance in this one but Brown still got buckets and once again put a lot of pressure on Harden, playing a leading role in another off night for the Beard. He got into foul trouble, though, which cost him some minutes down the stretch (though that was partly some incompetence from Joe Mazzulla).
Al Horford: 17 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 2 steals, 6-8 FG shooting
The former Sixer had a “Tell a friend to tell a friend” moment of sorts, shooting 5-7 from downtown after backing up his ability to shoot the ball earlier in the day.
Before the game, Embiid received the MVP trophy from Adam Silver. Embiid shouted out his teammates, got emotional as his son joined him at center court and thanked the fans. The crowd loudly chanted “Trust the Process!” as he concluded his speech.
Boston kept its defensive alignments with Brown guarding Harden tightly, Al Horford guarding Embiid and Marcus Smart roaming off of P.J. Tucker. Philly put Tobias Harris on Tatum and Tucker on Brown. Embiid made his first shot — a jumper off of a pass from Harden — but the Celtics made their first five shots, four of which were triples. Boston pushed the pace and shredded Philly’s transition defense, forcing Doc Rivers to take a timeout less than four minutes into the game and sub De’Anthony Melton in for Tucker. He took Tatum and Harris moved onto Brown.
Rivers said before the game that he expected both Embiid and the Sixers as a whole to be more aggressive. Embiid absolutely got the memo and looked to get right into his spots when he had the ball. The Celtics let Horford guard him by himself and Embiid got right to the rim. He did get sloppy with the ball a few times but maintained his strong defense, blocking a pair of attempts at the rim in the first quarter.
Turnover proneness (six in the first nine minutes) held the Sixers back at first. Facing a team that can light it up from deep means that the possession battle is extra important for Philly. Seven straight points gave them the lead as they clamped up on defense. Their rotations, even from the likes of Georges Niang, were on point as Philly took a one-point lead into the second quarter.
Harris, starting the second quarter with the Harden-led unit, picked up three fouls early in the quarter. Maxey replaced him and Embiid came back in shortly thereafter. Boston officially ditched the Horford matchup and either put smaller defenders on him (like Grant Williams) or doubled him. The Celtics denied Embiid and Harden the ball, gunking up Philly’s offense.
Not only did the Sixers (mostly Harden) turn the ball over often but, on top of gifting those fast break chances, they allowed the Celtics to generate a ton of second-chance opportunities. Even with the team around Embiid shooting so poorly, Philly only trailed 57-50 at the break.
Tatum and Brown each scored on drives against Embiid to start the half, with Brown’s drive resulting in an and-one. The Celtics went at the MVP with their star wings, hunting for shots inside the arc. The Sixers flipped the script, too, by launching treys and hitting four of their first six to start the half.
Embiid looked to make the most of his opportunities where just one defender was on him and Tucker took open shots and got them to fall. Harden took some possessions away from Embiid to isolate and came up with nothing. It was a frustrating viewing experience to see him all his own number to no avail with his MVP teammate playing so well and clearly wanting to get the ball.
Additionally, one odd factor going the Celtics’ way was their incredible luck with loose balls. Philly’s active hands often led to a loose ball that ended up in Boston’s hands, a few of them resulting in wide-open looks. Leprechauns, amirite? But seriously — with Boston winning the turnover battle and the Sixer’s defense starting to come undone, the C’s led by 11 after the third quarter.
Niang saved the Harden-led minutes from total disaster and gave Embiid a nine-point deficit with just under eight minutes left. Flashbacks to Ben Simmons ensued when Harden passed up a wiiide-open layup. It ended up being a hockey pass on a Melton three but…woof.
Harden actually got a layup to go to make it a six-point game. Brown picked up his fifth foul, Tatum and Smart each picked up their fourth and an Embiid putback cut it to four before Horford hit a huge triple, his fifth of the game. Harden had his best sequence of the game by stripping Tatum on a fast break, saving the ball and hitting a catch-and-shoot triple. But Tatum came back with three of his own.
An inbound violation out of a late timeout sealed the defeat. The Sixers now trail the series 2-1.
- Aside from when he got crossed by Smart, Niang might have played the best defense he has played all season. His spot in the rotation should still be given on a game-by-game basis but tonight will certainly help him.
Game 4 will tip off in Philly on Sunday at 3:30 PM EST.