Through a combination of unbelievably clutch and resilient plays from James Harden, Joel Embiid, and P.J. Tucker, with a little help from the Boston Celtics’ incredible penchant for shooting themselves in the foot, the Philadelphia 76ers pulled out a dire win in Game 4 to even the series at 2-2, and turn this second-round bloodbath into a best-of-three affair.
This victory with their backs against the wall proves that this Sixers team is different from the ones that Philly fans have grown accustomed to in the postseason, more reminiscent of the Jimmy Butler-led squad that went toe-to-toe with the eventual champion Toronto Raptors than the iterations that flamed out in every other playoff run since Joel Embiid’s arrival.
This Philadelphia unit has shown that they can win even with Joel Embiid sidelined, that they can survive a mini meltdown like they did in the fourth quarter of Game 4, and, perhaps most importantly, that they trust one another to show up and produce.
Here are a few other takeaways from the Sixers’ imperative Game 4 victory over the Boston Celtics:
P.J. Tucker has already earned his money
Throughout the entirety of the regular season, P.J. Tucker was a statistical anomaly, a plus-minus force more powerful than professional basketball has ever seen. Despite finishing an astonishing 47 games with one made field goal or less, he was sixth on the team in total +/- at +136 for the season. Even though he was practically a decoy on offense for the entire year, the Sixers’ offensive rating was still better by 1.4 points per 100 possessions with Tucker on the court.
All of the intangibles and unquantifiable additions he brought to the Sixers came to a head in Game 4, as P.J. came down with a clutch offensive rebound off of a Tobias Harris airball and laid it back in for an “and-1” bucket to tie the game up at 105 with just over a minute left.
While that tough basket truly epitomizes what Tucker brings to the floor night in and night out, it was what he did after getting the two points and the foul that really showed his importance to this Sixers team. Rather than celebrate his clutch put-back, P.J. immediately took the small break in gameplay to pass down his sage wisdom to Joel Embiid — bringing the MVP down, so Tucker could get in his ear, just for the sage veteran to scream at him to be more aggressive.
From that point on, it was clear that Tucker’s words got through to Embiid. He stopped letting Al Horford get into his head, and the MVP was adamant about getting the ball into his hands down the stretch. That push from P.J. culminated in a turnaround fadeaway that brought the game within one point in overtime, two clutch free throws to give the Sixers the lead with 56 seconds left, and Embiid consistently drawing double-teams, including the one that led to a wide-open James Harden corner triple that would prove to be the game-winner.
“Houston” James Harden and EMVPiid can coexist
Throughout the 2022-2023 regular season, there were 15 instances in which Joel Embiid and James Harden both scored at least 25 points each. The Sixers went 11-4 in those games. Unfortunately, two of those losses were against the Boston Celtics.
On October 18th, the MVP and the Beard were fantastic for the Sixers, combining for 61 points on 56 percent shooting. They got help from Tobias Harris and Tyrese Maxey, too, who put up 18 and 21, respectively. The problem was that they hadn’t figured out their defensive chemistry yet, and the Boston Celtics took full advantage, as their star duo of Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown simply outgunned Philadelphia. On that night, the Jays put up 70 points together on a ridiculous 27-44 shooting.
In their February 8th clash, Philly simply failed to get any contributions aside from Harden and Embiid. The two MVPs scored 54 of Philadelphia’s 99 total points, on 54 percent marks, but no other Sixer scored more than 12. Despite holding Jayson Tatum to just 12 points and the early exit from Jaylen Brown, the Cs overwhelmed the Sixers with their depth.
Aside from those two losses, it’s clear that the Sixers are practically unstoppable when both Harden and Embiid are dominant on the offensive end of the court, with further proof coming in their Game 4 victory over the Celtics.
Harden was able to put up 25 points or more 18 times in the regular season. One of those games, Joel Embiid, was out with injury. Of the only two times Embiid failed to reach 25 points himself, one was a narrow two-point loss to the Milwaukee Bucks in the second game of the season, and the other was a blowout win against the Houston Rockets in which Joel scored 23 points, and only needed to play 30 minutes.
Simply put, EMVPiid will get his buckets. James Harden needs to continue to be aggressive and seek his own shot, while Embiid can get his share within the flow of the game. The Sixers need the Beard to resemble the Houston version of himself if they hope to escape this second-round bout and eventually capture the Larry O’Brien.
The Boston Celtics will continue to beat themselves if given the chance
Even with James Harden’s game-winning triple, Joel Embiid’s clutch fadeaway, and P.J. Tucker’s rousing motivational speech to the MVP, the lasting memory from the insane rollercoaster that was Game 4 will likely be Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla electing not to call a timeout down one with 18 seconds left.
The Cs then let the clock wind down to six seconds remaining before giving it to Jayson Tatum, 35 feet away from the hoop. Tatum was able to drive in and collapse the defense, but by the time he could find Marcus Smart open behind the arc, there was a mere four-tenths of a second left for the former DPOY to get a shot off.
Between their disaster of a final possession that resulted in the clock running out and Jaylen Brown leaving James Harden open in the corner to double Joel Embiid on the low block with a two-point lead, it’s possible to say that Boston beat themselves more so than the Sixers did.
Despite their top-tier talent and collection of high-level contributors, the Celtics regularly look very much like a team whose best player is still only 25 years old, is helmed by a rookie head coach, and has Marcus Smart as their spiritual leader. Boston will absolutely continue to get in their own way; the Sixers just have to put the Celtics in position to do so two more times to reach the Eastern Conference Finals.