Celtics Fall to 76ers 119-115

The Philadelphia 76ers — even without the likely MVP — won’t make for an easy second round opponent.

The Sixers took down the Boston Celtics 119-115, taking Game 1 on the road. In Joel Embiid’s absence, James Harden played hero, going for 45 points (a playoff career-high) and hitting the go-ahead three with 8.3 seconds remaining. Boston, meanwhile, turned in a good offensive game, but needs to up the defensive intensity in Game 2.

This game from Harden felt like a classic, Houston Rockets-era performance. Heavily working the iso game, his step back three was on for most of the night, and he posted a much improved showing from inside the arc compared to the Brooklyn Nets series. He finished shooting 50% from three and 17/30 overall.

Aside from him, the 76ers supporting cast stepped up to fill the void left by Embiid. Tyrese Maxey finished with 26 points and 4 steals, including a big one with 32.7 seconds left and the shot clock expiring. DeAnthony Melton also had a big game off the bench, recording 17 points and 5/6 shooting from three.

Following the game, Al Horford said that the 76ers missing Embiid affected their play and led to lackluster defense. “As much as you don’t want to say it’s a factor, I believe it was,” he said. “We have to be better. We have to be able to play with whatever happens.”

The Celtics came to play on one side of the ball, but not on defense. Their drop coverage on Harden in the first half allowed him to settle into a rhythm, and despite shooting 72% in the first half, they only led by 4 going into the third quarter. Their overactivity later on also created problems, and forced just 6 turnovers total.

“They did whatever they wanted at the offensive end,” said Horford.

The one thing the C’s did well was attack Philadelphia where they were weak: the paint. With no strong rim presence in Philadelphia’s lineup, Boston killed them inside all night on drives and backdoor cuts, scoring 66 points total. Jayson Tatum in particular was unstoppable on drives, and he finished the night with 39 points. Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon also turned in really strong games, going for 23 and 20 respectively.

Boston has the ability to score at will on the 76ers, but they have to challenge them more on defense and take advantage of no Joel Embiid.

“I’m not concerned,” said Malcolm Brogdon, “but we need to come out and send a message next round.”

The Celtics and 76ers will battle again in Game 2 at TD Garden on Thursday night.

Henry Bova

Henry is a journalism student at Northeastern University covering the Celtics and Patriots for CLNS.

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