Despite being without their star center for the evening, the Philadelphia 76ers knocked off the Boston Celtics by a score of 109-98. Not only was this the Sixers third consecutive win over the “C’s” this season, but it officially gives them the series win on the year.
Less than two hours before the big time Eastern Conference matchup, news broke that Joel Embiid’s finger injury was far more serious than initially expected. It was officially announced that he in fact tore a ligament in his left hand, an injury that will ultimately require surgery. To read more about JoJo and his injury, check out Zach Ciavollela’s story on the matter: “Down goes Embiid: Sixers Star’s Latest Injury”.
Even without Embiid, this was still a monumental game for both teams. The Sixers were looking to defend home court while the Celtics were trying to snap a two-game losing streak.
Early on things weren’t necessarily going Philly’s way. The Celtics started off red hot from three, leading by a score of 35-26 at the end of the first quarter. Kemba Walker had 13 points in that opening quarter while shooting with scary efficiency. Boston rode that momentum into the second, stretching their lead all the way into double digits at one point. Marcus Smart in particular was a nuisance on the Sixer’s defense, knocking in 5 threes to go with his 24 points.
Even without their leader, the Sixers proved they are quite the resilient group. Through a combination of some timely three-point shooting, some key minutes from rookie Norvel Pelle, some big buckets from Josh Richardson and Al Horford, and some elite defense from Ben Simmons, the Sixers were able to claw their way back into the game.
Tobias Harris and Simmons both made some key shots in the closing minutes and the Sixers improved to 25-14 on the season. Walker led the way for the Celtics with 26, and Richardson led all scorers with 29 on the night. Simmons had 19 and Harris had 16, while Horford posted a near triple-double with 17 points, 8 rebounds, and 6 assists.
Welcome back Al Horford
This was Horford’s best performance as a 76er since back in early November (when he dropped 32 on Phoenix). Against his former team Al was making threes (2), was effective in the post, was setting excellent screens, and consistently made plays on the defensive end. With Embiid set to miss an extended period of time, eyes are obviously on Horford to see if he can step up and fill the void. If he continues to play like this, expect the criticisms surrounding his contract to start settling down.
Josh Richardson at Point Guard?
Brett Brown tried something new tonight with Embiid out of the rotation. At multiple times throughout the game, he ran Richardson at point guard with either Horford or Simmons setting ball screens for him. Simply put, it worked! JRich had a game-high 29 points on 56% shooting. He also got to the line ten times AND recorded 7 assists. Expect Brett to return to this tactic frequently over the next couple of weeks.
The Sixers are almost definitely a better team than the Celtics this year. As mentioned previously, Thursday night’s win now gives them a 3-0 advantage on the season which in turn gives them their first regular-season series win over Boston since 2014. The Sixers are back in action on the road against the Dallas Mavericks on Saturday night.
Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports