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Big crunch-time buckets from Joel Embiid propel Sixers to victory in Boston

That was fun!

Philadelphia 76ers v Boston Celtics Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

The start of tonight’s game between the Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics was delayed when a burst pipe in the TD Garden caused an evacuation alarm to go off. What could have been an ill omen actually didn’t end up portending disaster for either club, though, as Monday night’s game was a closely-contested affair that was within one or two possessions for the majority of the night.

With Philadelphia trailing by two and inside of two minutes remaining, a huge Danny Green three gave the Sixers a one-point lead, their first advantage in some time. The next three possessions were all Joel Embiid, as the big man dispelled Closer concerns for the moment by canning three consecutive contested jumpers to give the Sixers a 105-101 lead. Following a Boston bucket, Embiid would make only one of two free throws to leave it a one-possession game, but Joel redeemed himself by stealing the Celtics’ ensuing long in-bounds pass. The Sixers would finish off the 108-103 win, moving to 16-15 on the season.

Both teams were missing a large number of rotation players due to injuries and COVID protocols, with the Sixers’ absences largely concentrated on the second unit. As a result, Philadelphia had a huge disparity in bench scoring. The Sixers received only one point from the reserves (courtesy of Isaiah Joe), while Boston’s bench chipped in 18 points, mostly coming from Payton Pritchard, who hit some big shots in the second half to finish with 14 points.

Fortunately, the Sixers starters did enough on this night. Even prior to his late-game heroics, Embiid was huge, finishing with 41 points, 10 rebounds, five assists, two steals, and four blocks. Joel was happy to not have to face Al Horford, who has given him some trouble in the past. Instead, he was able to tear apart Enes Freedom (formerly Kanter) all night long. Embiid had his shot working, of course, but also did plenty of damage by getting to the foul line. Freedom kept slapping down on Embiid drives and bully moves inside, drawing the whistle and allowing Joel to end his night 12-of-14 at the charity stripe. If we had to quibble with any part of Joel’s game, he did make some head-scratching decisions out of the post that led to turnovers. However, with no Tyrese Maxey or Shake Milton, Embiid also played some point, believe it or not, bringing the ball up a fair bit and making nice passes from out top. Go off, Joel.

Joel had some help from his friends, though. Seth Curry was on fire, scoring 26 points on 10-of-14 shooting and chipping in with seven assists. Embiid-Curry pick-and-rolls were easy offense for the Sixers, as Seth consistently stepped into those mid-range shots where he has made nearly automatic all season. Curry hit his fair share of twos, threes (3-of-3 behind the arc), and even a four.

Tobias was the third member of the Sixers’ Big 3 on the night. There was a point where the team had three guys with exactly 24 points and no one else with more than five. Harris’ final line was 25 points on 7-of-13 shooting, along with seven rebounds, and three assists. Crucially, Tobi went 8-of-10 at the foul line, tying a season-high for free throw attempts. It was the best version of Harris, showing a quick trigger and attacking downhill decisively. Whatever prompted tonight’s level of play, hopefully he can bottle it. This was the near-All Star version of Harris from a year ago.

Tonight’s Sixers Big 3 overcame the Big 2 for Boston. Jaylen Brown scored 30 points and Jayson Tatum had only 17, with the two Celtics combining to shoot only 14-of-36 from the field. Credit to Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle for playing feisty defense throughout the night; the two Sixers wings also each hit big shots in the fourth quarter.

The Sixers will be back at it on Thursday night, home against Atlanta. Hopefully, they can get a few more non-G League bodies back on the court. Tonight was a very solid win, though, pulling out a close game in a tough environment. 16-15 feels a lot better than 15-16.