The Sixers avoided being swept by the Celtics this year in a hard-fought win carried by Joel Embiid’s 52 points and 13 rebounds.
This win brings Philadelphia to 52 wins and only 3 games behind Boston’s 2 seed.
Embiid came into this game knowing that this wasn’t any other game.
This was a game that could help elevate his MVP ranking, as well as bring Philly’s motivation back.
And he did not disappoint.
Embiid started the game as dominant. 18 points and 7 rebounds is a stat line that could be one of an All-Star’s. But this was Joel’s just after the first quarter. Jayson Tatum was fighting back though, as he was trading baskets with the Sixers center. James Harden also was involved in feeding Embiid early, as he helped to run multiple pick-and-rolls. Philadelphia led 28-22 going into the second quarter.
In the 2nd quarter, Malcolm Brogdon became an issue for the Philly defense. He scored a quick 11 points early in the quarter, but Joe Mazzulla made the questionable decision to take him out after only about 5 minutes of play. Once Brogdon came out, both teams’ three-point shooting seemed to vanish. Both teams shot under 40% from 3 in this quarter. James Harden did not need his three-pointers to go in to make a difference. Harden scored more points in the first half of this game than he did all of Sunday Night’s game versus the Bucks. Both Harden and Embiid helped lead the Sixers to a 53-46 lead going into halftime
Closing it Out
While Philadelphia led by 7 going into the third quarter, their lead was far from safe. Marcus Smart came out the gate dominant, as he scored over 10 points early in the quarter. While this became an issue for Philly, they bounced back by feeding Embiid the ball in the paint. The MVP frontrunner rarely missed. Shot after shot was falling for him and it became a problem for Boston. Tatum did all that he could to trim down Philadelphia’s lead and he did this by taking mid-range jumpers and hitting open threes. This worked, as the Sixers’ lead was trimmed down to just 5 with Philadelphia leading 72-67 going into the 4th.
Joel Embiid sat out for the first half of the fourth quarter.
Scoring 38 points and racking 12 rebounds with 2 blocks takes a toll on your body, after all.
Not having Embiid early proved to not be fruitful for Philly. Derrick White became a sharpshooter, as there wasn’t a 7-footer in his way anymore. This made the Sixers foul-happy, with Tobias Harris, P.J. Tucker, and Tyrese Maxey all contributing to the foul total. The Celtics got into the bonus pretty quickly because of this which caused Doc Rivers to have no choice but to put Embiid back in. He immediately became lethal from mid-range. It seemed as if in almost every possession he was receiving the ball at the top of the key, and draining it. Boston now had to figure out a way to defend this, and in doing so P.J. Tucker was wide open in the corner. Tucker hit 3 triples in a row for Philly and it looked as if they were running away with it.
Boston thought otherwise.
The Celtics forced Tyrese Maxey out of bounds with less than 10 seconds left and Marcus Smart went inside and hit a layup and was fouled. It was now a 5 point ball game. Smart intentionally missed his free throw and kicked it out to Al Horford, who then kicked it over to Derrick White. White drilled a shot from downtown and was fouled by P.J. Tucker with only 2 seconds remaining. Doc Rivers elected to use his coach’s challenge to attempt to overrule the foul call, and this was a success. It was Philadelphia ball up 2 with 2 seconds left.
And then a personal foul was called out by Joel Embiid before the ball was thrown in.
The Celtics threw the ball into Jayson Tatum, who ran around the basket and shot a difficult mid-range jump shot and it hit the back rim and was no good.
Philly survived a scary comeback by the Celtics and won 103-101 in their final meeting of the regular season.
The Home Stretch
Philly now has only 3 games left in the season. Their final home game will be played on Thursday Night against the Miami Heat, which will be an excellent matchup between former Sixer Jimmy Butler and the MVP frontrunner in Joel Embiid. Philly will then take a trip to Atlanta on Friday to take on Trae Young and the Hawks, and they will finish out the season Sunday Afternoon in Brooklyn. As of right now, Philadelphia will face the Nets in the first round, however, this is subject to change if Miami or Atlanta goes on a quick run to end the season.