BOSTON — This time, the Celtics couldn’t come back on the Sixers.
Exactly one week after turning a 22-point hole into an 11-point win in London, the Celtics, playing without injured starting point guard Kyrie Irving, turned in one of their ugliest performances of the season in a 89-80 loss to Philadelphia at TD Garden. The loss snapped Boston’s 7-game home winning streak over Philadelphia, dating to April 4, 2014.
The Sixers, who committed 25 turnovers in the win, finally exorcised the Celtics demons that had haunted them all year, dropping a game in Philadelphia, Boston and London previously.
For a second straight game at the Garden, a big man came in and dominated the Celtics. Joel Embiid scored 26 points and hauled in 16 rebounds while T.J. McConnell (15 points) hit several key jumpers in the second half to help the Sixers (21-20) do what they couldn’t in London, hold off a charge from Boston. Al Horford and Marcus Morris each had 14 for the Celtics, who fall to 34-12. For a full box score, click here.
Without Irving, who said he had an MRI after feeling some shoulder soreness before Tuesday’s loss to the Pelicans, the Celtics had trouble all night finding rhythm. They finished with just 13 assists on 30 field goals.
During the first timeout of the first quarter, the Celtics played a two-minute tribute to the late Jo Jo White, who lost his battle with cancer on Tuesday. Before the national anthem, the team held a moment of silence.
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 19, 2018
Sixers missed their first seven shots from the field while the Celtics opened with a 6-0 lead. But as the first quarter progressed, it became obvious that they team looked lost without Irving at the point.
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 19, 2018
The Celtics committed 14 turnovers in just over a quarter of playing time in the first half. When they did get the ball inside and didn’t turn it over, they missed clean looks.
One of the only highlights of the first half came in the first quarter when Philadelphia’s Justin Anderson attempted a layup on a pass from Joel Embiid. Jayson Tatum rejected him in spectacular fashion.
Tatum also had an offensive highlight in the first quarter when he executed a nasty crossover dribble on Robert Covington on his way to the basket for a layup.
Tatum puts Philly’s defense on skates! pic.twitter.com/mDleTqjTIk
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) January 19, 2018
After their slow start, Philadelphia finally took advantage, racing out to a 34-17 spurt and taking a 34-23 lead. Al Horford hit a shot and Marcus Smart, filling in for Irving, knocked down a three to bring the Celtics back to within six, 34-28.
The two teams traded remarkably sloppy play the rest of the half, with Boston finishing with 15 turnovers and Philly adding 12. The Celtics had more first half turnovers than second quarter points as they were outscored 18-13 and trailed, 39-32, at the break.
With the Celtics struggling to find any rhythm, Philadelphia built their lead to 56-41 with under four minutes left in the third. Boston didn’t attempt a single free throw in the game until Marcus Morris drained a pair with 3:39 left in the third. T.J. McConnell connected on back-to-back possessions to drive the Philly lead up to 18, 67-49. With McConnell on fire and Embiid hauling down every loose ball, the Sixers took a 71-53 lead into the fourth.
McConnell continued his torrid shooting in the fourth. As the shot clock was expiring, McConnell drilled a baseline three that put the Sixers up 19, 78-59, with 9:45 left. Embiid’s offensive rebound and putback pumped the lead up to 21, 80-59, with nine minutes remaining.
The Celtics scored the next seven points and did manage to sustain the run to cut the lead to 12, 84-72, on Jaylen Brown’s three-point play with 3:30 left. Al Horford’s free throw with just under three minutes left cut the lead to 84-73. After a pair of Embiid free throws, Brown answered with a three with 2:23 left to cut the lead to 10, 86-76.
Tatum drained a three with exactly two minutes left and it was 86-79. Shane Larkin then drew a charge on Dario Saric. But Horford missed a three from the left wing. After a shot clock violation, the Celtics had two chances at a three but missed both and Philadelphia grabbed possession with 50.3 seconds left.
Before the game, Kyrie Irving said that he doesn’t expect his left shoulder to be a long-term issue and is hopeful to be back in the starting lineup when the Celtics return to action, Sunday at home against the Magic.
WATCH: Kyrie Irving says he expects to be back Sunday vs. Magic. Says he felt the shoulder pregame Tuesday night and had an MRI. pic.twitter.com/ACih91NL28
— Mike Petraglia (@Trags) January 18, 2018
The Celtics will look to avoid their first three-game skid of the season when they host the Magic at 1 p.m. at the Garden before heading out on a four-game West Coast swing.