24 minutes into tonight's game, the Philadelphia 76ers were winning by 11 points and had completely dominated the Boston Celtics in the paint to the tune of 30-6.
And right on cue, the most reliable story arc this side of Law and Order played itself out once again. We've seen this game dozens of times over the past few seasons: Brett Brown has these images - different opponents, same result - indelibly burned into his brain. Nerlens Noel is Olivia Benson. Hollis Thompson is Elliot Stabler. (We miss you, Stabler.)
But despite the Celtics turning up the intensity over the final two quarters, the Sixers were able to hang in there until just before the final buzzer, falling to Boston 110-106 at the TD Garden on Friday night.
After a 39-point second quarter and a stifling defensive performance that completely neutralized the Celtics from inside the arc, the Sixers appeared to be headed towards their first three-game winning streak in nearly three seasons. Joel Embiid had 17 of his team-high 23 points in the first half, and T.J. McConnell was the consummate floor general (9 assists) for a team that shot nearly 54 percent over the first two quarters.
Avery Bradley (who finished with a game-high 26 points) and the Celtics' second unit got hot in the third quarter, and Boston went into the final 12 minutes trailing by only two.
Given the fact that Embiid and Noel had a combined nine personal fouls heading into the fourth quarter, conventional wisdom (based on the team's recent history) would have suggested that the Sixers would have gotten run out of the gym to end the game. Au contraire, mon frère... Brett Brown’s charges did just enough to keep things interesting, never letting the Celtics jump out too far in front. In fact, the game was especially #LeaguePassAlert worthy during the final 1:43 which saw the following:
- A Gerald Henderson foul away from the ball that gave the Celtics a free throw AND possession (1:43)
- An Embiid block (1:40)
- A game-tying Henderson 3 (1:24)
- An Ilyasova missed 3 (1:00)
- A Henderson block (40.6)
- Two Embiid free throws to give the Sixers a 107-106 lead (28.7)
- A shot that felt like the 22nd Al Horford corner 3 of the night (which turned out to be the eventual game-winner - 17.2)
- A rushed, ill-advised jumper by Ilyasova (7.9)
- A rushed, ill-advised airball three-point attempt by Ilyasova (3.9)
And that was pretty much all she wrote. Embiid fouled out late in that sequence and was clearly despondent on the sideline in the closing seconds. No worries, big fella: That light at the end of the tunnel isn't all that far away anymore.
The Sixers are back on the wagon Sunday afternoon against the Brooklyn Nets at the Barclays Center. The team we saw tonight would have beaten the Nets by double-digits easily, so maybe another streak begins this weekend.
- Dario Saric had seven points and seven rebounds in the first half, then was kind of invisible in the second half. Conversely, Henderson did most of his damage after intermission and finished with 18 points in his first game back following his hip injury.
- Brett Brown has exactly one healthy, "natural" point guard on the roster, and that point guard - T.J. McConnell - had SEVENTEEN ASSISTS tonight (and nine points, four rebounds and two steals, but who's counting?).
- Mike Levin's commentary following the last Ersan shot is the best commentary:
Ersan's running commentary is, at all times: "FOR THE WINNNNNNNNNNNNNNN" but Turkish— Michael Levin (@Michael_Levin) January 7, 2017
- More Ersan: I like the guy and I think he’s a decent complement to Embiid (at times), but there should never be a game where he shoots 21 times and Embiid shoots 12. Period. Full stop.
- Jahlil Okafor was the recipient of a DNP-CD tonight (which I believe is his first one ever - need to get Philip the Intern working on that...). This appeared to be in the cards all along - Noel and Embiid were both in foul trouble late in the third quarter, and Brett Brown made no move to put in his second-year center. By and large, the Sixers' interior defense was pretty solid tonight, so I doubt Brown regretted the decision.
- Speaking of interior defense, Nerlens Noel (13 points, eight rebounds, three blocks in a shade under 25 minutes) gets a gold star for his performance against Boston. He's a stellar help defender and he covered up a lot of mistakes for his teammates tonight.
- This bears repeating: Timothy John McConnell had SEVENTEEN ASSISTS tonight. Can't wait until he's throwing oops to KAT in the Rookie/Sophomore Game down in New Orleans next month.