BOSTON — The Celtics made Brett Brown’s worst fears come true in Game 1 of the Eastern semifinals.
The Sixers coach, who watched as his team won its final 16 games of the regular season and four of five against Miami in the first round, worried openly before the game that rest might not be that great for his team.
Led by the scorching Terry Rozier and his 7-for-9 shooting from 3-point range and a playoff career-high 29 points, the Celtics handed the Sixers just their second loss in 22 games with a 117-101 win over Philadelphia in Game 1 Monday night at TD Garden. Jayson Tatum also added 28 while Al Horford chipped in with 26 for Boston, which shot an amazing 17-of-36 from 3-point range. Game 2 is set for Thursday night (8:30 p.m.) before the series shifts to Philadelphia. The Sixers were just 5-for-25 from beyond the arc.
The most remarkable part of all was the Celtics were able to do all of this without Jaylen Brown, out of Game 1 with a sore right hamstring. While Rozier, Tatum and Al Horford were hitting their shots and finishing at the basket, the Sixers were incapable of either.
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To start the game, Philadelphia looked like a team that hadn’t played in six days while Boston looked a team fatigued from a seven-game series against Milwaukee that ended two nights earlier.
Terry Rozier, who arrived to the Garden Monday in an old-school Drew Bledsoe jersey, carried over his momentum from the second half of Game 7 against Milwaukee in the first half of Game 1.
His pull-up three with 3:14 left in the first quarter capped a 7-0 Boston run and gave the Celtics a 21-13 lead.
Tatum slices to the rack! pic.twitter.com/iGE3hgJ3RA
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 1, 2018
The Sixers, meanwhile, could not buy a basket. They showed all the signs of rust from a team that hadn’t played in six days. They missed 16 of their first 20 shots from the field. Early on, offensive rebounding allowed the visitors to take a 9-6 lead.
But Rozier led the Boston surge. Not only did Rozier lead the Celtics in scoring in the opening quarter with 10 points, he grabbed a team-high six rebounds as Boston took a 25-22 lead after 12 minutes. While Boston made just 9-of-23 shots from the field in the first, the Sixers were abysmal, finishing the quarter just 8-for-25 (32 percent).
As Philadelphia continued its horrific shooting in the second quarter, Jayson Tatum took over. The rookie poured in nine of his 16 first-half points in the second quarter as the Celtics connected on 5-of-10 from beyond the arc. The Sixers were just 1-for-6 from deep in the quarter.
The Celtics took a 43-33 lead on an Al Horford layup with 4:23 left in the second quarter that capped a 10-0 run. Aron Baynes connected on a three on the next possession and it was 46-35. Rozier’s three with 27 seconds left in the first half gave Boston its biggest lead at 56-43. But on the next possession, as Embiid drove the paint, Marcus Smart appeared to take a hard fall under the basket. As he was leaving the court, he appeared to be in some discomfort. He did return with for second-half warmups with a new wrap on the thumb as Boston settled for a 56-45 halftime lead.
What a move by Rozier! pic.twitter.com/vkpalGedu9
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) May 1, 2018
The Sixers made a burst to start the half, cutting the lead to 56-50 in the opening two minutes. The Celtics answered right back on threes from Smart and Rozier and the Celtics led 62-50. Philadelphia came right back with an 8-2 run before Smart’s second three of the half.
The Celtics continued to look like the fresher team as Philadelphia missed another two looks close to the basket. Boston built it’s lead to 14 on five different occasions in the third. Smart then put back an offensive rebound and was fouled. His three point play put Boston ahead, 87-70, with 40 seconds left in the third. But the Sixers made a surge in the final 40 seconds, closing with a Celtics turnover that led to a JJ Redick three with 5.2 seconds left to close the game to 87-75 heading into the fourth.
As the Sixers cut it to 88-79 and were building momentum, Rozier drilled a wide-open three from the right wing with 9:32 left to increase the lead back to 12, 91-79.