Today had the potential to be all types of bad.
Before tonight’s game against the Boston Celtics, it was revealed that Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid would be out indefinitely to repair a torn ligament in his left hand after a gruesome displacement of his ring finger against the Oklahoma City Thunder on Monday night.
Add to that scenario the twist that the Celtics are in town on a back-to-back after two straight losses already this week (one to the Washington Wizards and the other to the San Antonio Spurs). Celtics guard Kemba Walker was ejected for the first time in his NBA career, so there was every reason to believe Boston would come out tonight heated at the Wells Fargo Center.
Well, they did.
At one point in the first quarter, the Celtics connected on five straight three pointers (three by Walker and the other two by Jaylen Brown). This was to counter a hot start by 76ers guard Josh Richardson who scored 11 of the home team’s first 15 points. When you see the Celtics start that hot from deep, you figure it’s going to be a long night.
It definitely seemed that way in the second quarter as the Celtics jumped out to a 15 point lead despite only shooting 32 percent from the field in the quarter. The Sixers closed the gap at halftime with a 12-0 run. In that quarter, Walker injured his left hand after taking consecutive screens from Ben Simmons and Mike Scott. Even before that, Walker hadn’t scored a point in the second. The Sixers trailed 55-48, but the game didn’t seem out of hand even without their All-Star center.
When the third began, the Sixers got going with Tobias Harris. After Horford scored the first five points of the Sixers third, Harris scored nine of the team’s next 16 points. An “almost yam shot” by Harris over Daniel Theis gave the Sixers their first lead since the first quarter at 59-57. Harris finished with 16 points and seven rebounds.
During that quarter, the Sixers went on another run thanks to the Celtics missing on six straight field goals before a Walker fade-away tied the game at 59. The Sixers defense looked much better in the second half, but their offense started to click – as evidenced by their shooting 54% from the field in the second half.
The main catalyst for the offense tonight was Josh Richardson who had his second straight really good game this week. Richardson had 23 points on 17 shots against the Thunder on Monday night, and followed it up with 29 points, tonight, on 16 shots as well as seven assists. In the fourth quarter alone, Richardson was 5-8 from the field, and his breakaway dunk to make it 109-98 sealed it.
Ben Simmons – who felt the verbal thrashing of Charles Barkley and Shaquille O’Neal calling for him to be the “leader” – had another solid night against the Celtics picking up 19 points and nine rebounds. Al Horford was spectacular tonight with 17 points, eight rebounds, six assists, and a plus/minus of +19 playing in Embiid’s place.
(Shout out to Norvel Pelle who had what seemed like an infinite number of blocks in five minutes in the second quarter.)
The Sixers are now 3-0 against the Celtics and have clinched the season series against Boston for the first time in a long while. That should be good for playoff positioning at the end of the season. It feels good to have a leg up on these guys for once.
It feels really good.