There was excitement in the air in the Wells Fargo Center as the Sixers faced off against the Boston Celtics with a special bearded new Sixer in attendance. James Harden sat on the first seat of the bench, supporting his new teammates and sporting some vibrant clothing in this rivalry matchup. The Sixers learned into this anticipation and even had Harden ring the bell prior to the game.
On the court, you could see the nerves in this matchup. The Celtics looked more relaxed and free-flowing in the early minutes jumping out to a 16-4 lead. Led by 11 first-quarter points from Jaylen Brown, they jumped out to a 32-22 to end the first quarter.
This trend continued to start the second as the Sixers shot just 1-7 to begin the period. The lead climbed to 52-28 before Joel Embiid began pushing the pace, which changed the game. Grabbing rebounds and attacking the rim coast-to-coast, Embiid got to the free-throw line a ridiculous 14 times in the first half. Propelled by these free points, Joel Embiid led the Sixers in scoring in the first half, tallying 17 points, 7 rebounds, and 5 assists.
The 10-0 run the Sixers went on was answered immediately by the Celtics ending with a soul-crushing three-pointer from Jaylen Brown to end the half. This statement ending from the Celtics pushed the lead to 27 as the Sixers went into the half down 69-42.
Jaylen Brown led the way for the Celtics, tallying an impressive 26 points, 6 rebounds, and shooting 5-5 from beyond the arc in the first half. The Celtics shot the lights out, connecting on 22 of their 39 attempts from the field (56.4%) and 12 of 19 (63.2%) from beyond the three-point arc. They also outrebounded the Sixers 25-28 in the half and led 14-2 in fast-break points.
Celtics perimeter pest, Marcus Smart, left the game with an ankle injury in the second quarter, which was disappointing to see. He shot two free-thrown before being subbed out but was unable to return to the game. Smart was diagnosed with an ankle sprain and could hardly put pressure on the leg when leaving the game.
With the Sixers in desperate need of a momentum boost to start the half, the Celtics jumped out to a 16-6 run to start the half. It was just about as disappointing of a performance as possible in the first game in front of James Harden. The floodgates continued to pour open, and the Sixers never climbed back into the game. With the lead at one point reaching as high as 49, the Sixers never made it a contest.
The game ultimately ended with the Celtics winning 135-87 in a wire-to-wire win for Boston. The benches were empty for most of the fourth quarter, with every active player on the Sixers roster getting some time. Paul Millsap was able to make his Sixers debut playing 9 minutes and tallying 9 points, 3 rebounds, and 1 assist in this game. While it is a low bar to reach, there is a real argument that Millsap was the most effective Sixers player outside of Embiid tonight.
Joel Embiid saw his incredible stretch of 25+ scoring performances end tonight. The MVP favorite ended with 19 points, 9 rebounds, and 6 assists in his 26 minutes of play. This ends the 23 straight games in which Embiid has tallied this figure which is the fourth-longest streak in NBA history. Embiid falls shot to Wilt Chamberlain (80 games, 26 games) and Rick Barry (25 games) for the longest streak.
This Sixers offense needs James Harden. As much as Joel Embiid has improved as a passer, and while the offense is still solid running through him in the post, the Sixers will not take the leap as an offense with him as the primary distributor. James Harden will help the offense to flow in a much more efficient matter, and it can not be overstated how much of an impact his high IQ and passing ability will make. This trade was not a luxury; the Sixers absolutely needed to make this deal in order to remain in the hunt.
In the long run, this game is not a major concern. With Harden not making his debut yet, it was clear the Sixers were starved for the scoring ability that is typically counted on by Seth Curry. As James Harden put it in his press conference today, “After the break, it’s go time.” The Sixers should adopt this exact same mentality as this will be the first time to see the team fully put together.
The Sixers have one more game before this weekend’s All-Star Break as they face the Milwaukee Bucks on Thursday on the road. Their record falls to 34-22 on the season, which will keep them at 4th place in the East for the time being. Flush this game and move on; the Sixers season starts after the break.