The Celtics defeated the Sixers 117-107 on Wednesday in an impressive win with both Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis on the bench.
Here are the takeaways.
1. Other players had bigger nights, but whenever the Celtics beat the Sixers, it feels appropriate to start with leftover Al Horford maybe the most infuriating part of the Celtics-Sixers rivalry for Philadelphia fans. Sixers star Joel Embiid looked grumpy and withdrawn all game, and against Horford he is in danger of failing as Horford knows his tricks well at this point and is less likely to be tricked into a mistake.
Limiting Embiid to 20 points and four free throws wasn’t Horford’s only contribution (although it was clearly a big one). Horford was a threat around the rim, destroying possessions against multiple Sixers forwards. He also had a huge stretch in the third quarter, burying three consecutive triples against a Sixers defense that collapsed with shocking ease and left several Celtics shooters wide open. That play from Horford pushed the Celtics back into the lead at a time when the game could have gone either way.
Horford enjoys playing against Sixers fans. At one point, he turned and grinned at the fans in the front row after burying a three-pointer.
“I just think it’s great, man,” Horford told reporters afterward. “When you hear that spoken, it gives you that little bit extra. So I appreciate them.”
If the Celtics tie the Sixers in the playoffs, expect Horford to start. Of course, starting Horford isn’t an easy decision because it means someone has to go to the bench and one of the most likely candidates is the next player we’ll discuss.
2. Derrick White was excellent. On a night when Brown and Porzingis were out, the Celtics needed someone who could provide a little bit of everything. Luckily for the Celtics, they have a few players equipped to do that, and perhaps none of them are better at it than White, who finished with 27 points, three rebounds and five assists.
White attacked the Sixers in a few different ways. He shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range. He reached the free throw line ten times and made nine. He knocked over a few floats. He broke the defense and started the ball movement. He found teammates in transition.
The Sixers don’t have great defenders for White or Holiday, especially when their better defenders are in Jayson Tatum. Of course, that’s a problem they share with the rest of the NBA.
3. In his postgame interview with ESPN, White nicely summed up the cognitive dissonance of being a father on business (especially the father of a newborn).
“It will be nice to get some sleep on this road (journey),” White said. “But I miss them.”
4. In our ongoing documentation of Celtics assistant coach Matt Reynolds’ series of successful challenges, his work at 1:08 of the fourth quarter was some of his best this year. Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey appeared to draw three free throws as Jrue passed Holiday, but Holiday hit the ball and didn’t appear to touch Maxey. To make things better for the Celtics, Derrick White grabbed the rebound of Maxey’s airball, putting the Celtics ahead by three free throws and getting the ball back. Tatum tapped in his own miss on the ensuing possession, and the Celtics wrested complete control of the game from the Sixers.
5. Not only were the Celtics without Brown and Porzingis, Tatum had a relatively mediocre game as a scorer. He led the team in scoring with 29 points, but he went 10-for-23 from the floor.
Still, Tatum finished with six assists. The Sixers sent him a lot of attention, and he handled it very well, especially down the stretch.
6. The Celtics’ drive-and-kick game is a great way to neutralize Embiid’s defensive effect. By getting all the way to the rim, they can score the layup or set up Embiid and kick the ball out to whoever is open. If that player is Embiid’s defensive attack, it will likely be Horford or Porzingis, both shooters the Celtics feel very comfortable with.
Before the game, Nick Nurse said the Sixers wanted to limit the Celtics’ three-pointers. The Celtics finished 18-for-50 from behind the arc.
7. Tyrese Maxey finished with 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting. When these teams meet in the playoffs, he will certainly have some big games, but he will have to work for his points against White and – especially – Holiday.
8. The Celtics took a 15-point lead in the first quarter, buoyed by their bench, which has been doing a good job for a few weeks after a shaky start. Luke Kornet struggled to defend in space, but punished the Sixers late with a pair of key putbacks, dropping nine points with six more boards. Svi Mykhialiuk knocked down a three-pointer and finished with five points. Sam Hauser was in the starting lineup, but he hit a few threes and held his own.
The Sixers’ bench, meanwhile, was even better in the second quarter, leading the charge as they erased the deficit and took a one-point lead into halftime. Jaden Springer in particular seems like a nice prospect on both sides. However, without better play from their stars, the Sixers’ bench was just a nice sideline.
9. Embiid has always been pretty outspoken about the rivalry against the Celtics. That continued on Wednesday.
The Sixers are a good team, but even though the Celtics are 1-1 against them, we’ve seen little to indicate that the dynamic of the rivalry has changed so far this season.
10. The Celtics now travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors on Friday in their second game of the season tournament. They wrap up their road trip with a back-to-back against the Grizzlies and Hornets on Sunday and Monday.
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