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Harden, Maxey struggle as Sixers drop Game 2, trail Celtics 2-1

The Sixers’ backcourt struggled mightily while the Celtics made a bunch of winning plays down the stretch to take a 2-1 series lead Friday.

Boston Celtics v Philadelphia 76ers - Game Three Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

It feels like we’ve seen this movie a hundred times.

The Sixers fell 114-102 to the Boston Celtics Friday night, spoiling the big fella’s celebration and falling into a 2-1 series hole.

Joel Embiid, who was presented with this year’s KIA MVP award before the game, went for 30 points, 13 rebounds, three assists, and four blocks, but his supporting cast struggled.

James Harden shot just 3 of 14, scoring 16 points and dishing out 11 assists but also turned the ball over five times and passed up enough looks in the paint to give Sixers fans PTSD. Tyrese Maxey also struggled to get a clean shot off, putting up 13 points on 4 of 15 shooting.

Here are some thoughts at the buzzer.

First Quarter

  • It didn’t take long for the Sixers to be in a double-digit hole, as Boston made their first five shots from the field. Four of them were wide-open threes as a result of over-helping around the perimeter.
  • P.J. Tucker was pulled very early at the start in favor of De’Anthony Melton. The three-guard lineup may be something Rivers has to go with a lot more as this series progresses. Tucker’s lack of activity has made life much easier on the Celtics’ defense. Melton was also on the floor to close the game over Tucker.
  • Doc Rivers anticipated a much more aggressive Embiid in this game, and that was certainly the case early. Embiid took Philly’s first two shots of the game, and looked like he wanted to dunk Horford through the earth on every post up. He looked much better than Game 2.
  • Also unlike Game 2, Embiid was back at his usual rotation shifts, playing nearly the entire first quarter. Philly’s offense got into a groove late in the quarter, going on a 10-0 run to get back into the game. A pair of free throws from Maxey gave the Sixers a one-point lead after the first, until Melton was T’d up for kicking the rebound of his half-court heave.

Second Quarter

  • This was an incredible save by Melton, how he was able to save this is anyone’s guess.
  • The Sixers appeared to get out to a lead with Embiid on the bench when troubling tendencies from Game 2 begun to surface. Not recovering loose balls or rebounds can absolutely sink this team.
  • They didn’t do a great job of taking care of the basketball either. The Sixers had turned the ball over eight times before the seven-minute mark of the second. It was not a good half for the backcourt. Harden accounted for three of those turnovers and shot just 1 of 7, clearly frustrated with calls he thought he should have been getting. He was even so passive late in the quarter fans were imploring him to shoot the way they used to for another Sixers point guard
  • Maxey was 2 of 7, struggling to get a clean look inside the perimeter. Melton sank a three right before the half that was initially waved off, but was reviewed and overturned. Even though the basket eventually counted, the Celtics capitalized on the initial confusion, taking a seven-point lead into the half.

Third Quarter

  • As they love to do, Boston started the half with their starters playing five-out to draw Embiid out to the perimeter, and Tatum and Brown had some success with it, quickly stretching the lead back to double digits.
  • It really felt like the Sixers’ offense was battling itself. Embiid went on a heater to bring it back to a two-point game.
  • But Harden’s play grew even more passive, passing up shots in the lane that could only be described as Simmons-esque. On top of that, Boston answered every run the Sixers made with a three on the other end of the court.
  • Despite Embiid getting to the line consistently, the Sixers were held without a field goal for the last five minutes of the third. The last Sixer not named Embiid to score was Tucker on a corner three with 5:25 left in the quarter. Philly found themselves trailing by 11 after three.

Fourth Quarter

  • The minutes Embiid sat weren’t great for the Sixers, though with how bad Harden looked in the third these minutes could have gone a lot worse. Georges Niang, who’s struggled often in this matchup, kept the Sixers afloat during this stretch. Niang finished with 10 points on 4 of 7 shooting.
  • As they have all year, the Celtics turned the ball over a lot down the stretch. Three turnovers out of four possessions once again allowed the Sixers to climb back into the game. Every time they did, Boston would respond with a backbreaking shot.
  • As is so often the case with his career, Embiid was just tasked with having to do too much with not enough help
  • The Sixers can even the series up on Sunday, as Game 4 will tip off at 3:30 p.m. ET from the Wells Fargo Center.

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