In the biggest game of the season, with the season hanging on by a thread, the Sixers fell apart. The Celtics took Game 3 by a score of 101-98 in overtime and now the Sixers have to try and do the impossible by coming back from a 3-0 series deficit. This is the hardest time I’ve ever had trying to put what I saw into words, so please bear with me.
For much of the first half both sides were trading blows, without either getting too much of an advantage. Things seemed to be in the Sixers favor, because even with ugly shooting numbers they were still within striking distance. A Sixers run at the end of the second quarter thanks to some timely three point shots gave them a three point lead at halftime. There was an energy at the Wells Fargo Center, it started with a Joel Embiid poster of Aron Baynes, and it gave fans hope that this ending would be different than the first two games.
Coming out of the halftime break it was much of the same, both teams going cold for extended periods of time, and more back and forth play, neither team separating themselves. Once the fourth quarter rolled around both teams tried to shift into high gear, with more back and forth play the entire game came down to the last few possessions. The Sixers were able to create a small lead for themselves, but one that no one felt comfortable with, and the lackadaisical play and rookie mentality that showed up in the first two games came around once again in the final seconds. With the game tied and the ball on an inbounds play, both Ben Simmons and Joel Embiid collided, the ball rolled right past them both as the Celtics coasted for an easy layup to give Boston an 89-87 lead with 1.7 seconds left. Everyone thought the game was over, but the greatest off balanced shooter in the history of the world, Marco Belinelli had other ideas, as he sunk a jumper at the buzzer to tie it up and head to overtime.
I’m almost positive I blacked out after the Belinelli shot and missed the first few moments of overtime, but more back and forth play ensued after, but eventually it was the Sixers who were able to grab another small lead, as the score was 98-94 with a minute left in the extra period. Then it happened, everything fell apart. A Jayson Tatum layup, followed by an Embiid turnover and foul of Al Horford made it a one point Sixers lead with just under a minute left. In the dying moments of the game the Sixers had a chance to put it away for good, as Embiid missed a fade away with 8 seconds and Simmons was able to grab the offensive rebound. Instead of taking the ball out and settling for free throws to try and ice the game, Simmons instead tried a baby hook shot that was just off, giving the Celtics a chance to take the lead with about 8 seconds. The famous Brad Stevens plays out of timeouts did not disappoint, as the Celtics took a one point lead on an Al Horford layup with 5 seconds left. In the most disappointing way possible the Sixers gave up basically any chance they had at winning the game as sloppy play came to the forefront because of a bad Ben Simmons inbounds pass to Embiid, which the Celtics gladly stole on their way to the free throw line to ice the game and give themselves a 3-0 series lead.
What hurt the most about this game is that the Sixers had so many chances to grow their leads or put the game away all together and they couldn’t finish. As great as Marco Belinelli’s shot was to get the game into overtime, he should’ve never been put in that situation, because the Sixers should’ve already had the game wrapped up. More highly questionable lineup decisions from Brett Brown happened in Game 3, and the overall feeling from this series is that he has just been out coached, to put it quite simply.
It has been an incredible season for this Sixers team, but the deficiencies of the team were highlighted on the bigger stage of the playoffs. Ben Simmons is going to have a long, incredible career, but this series needs to be a wakeup call for him in order to improve. This game is going to hurt for a long time, just because of how close a win was, and even if no one else wants to hear it, I’m going to take a glass half full approach and say it was a valuable learning experience.