The 76ers were defeated by the Boston Celtics on Monday evening in game one of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown, and Kemba Walker led the way for the Celtics in what was a physical and close game one matchup.
Kemba Walker finished with 19 points and 5 assists to go along with Jaylen Brown’s 29 points. But the big story for the Celtics was Jayson Tatum’s playoff career high of 32 points. The Celtics perimeter trio torched the Sixers. Walker gave the Sixers fits down the stretch as he scored 9 points in the fourth. The Celtics (like every other team) attacked the Sixers in the pick and roll and generated offense for their wings and guards in those sets. Brett Brown never adjusted.
Joel Embiid came into the game attacking. In the first quarter, Embiid was set up in the post and he did what he was supposed to do, taking advantage of the Celtics bigs who clearly couldn’t handle the big man, finishing the quarter with 11 points on 5-5 shooting, including this beauty of a shot:
After this was where it started to go downhill. In the second quarter Embiid had two shot attempts. The rest of the game, he had eight. This, in my opinion was where the game was lost. In my keys to the game, one of the keys was for Brett Brown to coach smart and not go away from a hot player. The Sixers head coach did just that. Going away from Embiid, who was looking to dominate, and electing to get others involved, which resulted in five turnovers and five missed three pointers in the second quarter.
I wrote in the Sixers playoff primer that the keys would be strong performances out of Tobias Harris and Al Horford on offense and Matisse Thybulle on defense. Thybulle did his job defensively, holding Jayson Tatum to 2-8 shooting as his primary defender. However, Harris had a pretty quiet night as he put up just 15 points on 6-15 shooting. Harris showed a lack of aggressiveness in looking for his shot. For the Sixers to have success in this series Harris will have to contribute more offensively and assume full ownership of his second option status with the absence of Ben Simmons. Al Horford finished with just 6 points on 3-7 shooting.
The Sixers guards fought hard to make up for the lack of offensive production out of the front court. Josh Richardson finished with 18 points. With Richardson, he had some good moments and bad moments. Good, were the timely threes he made, including one with 59 seconds left to trim the Boston lead down to 3, and his defense on anyone not named Jayson Tatum. Bad was his defense on Tatum and the baffling shot selection, which appeared to become tunnel visioned at times. Alec Burks came up huge in this game. He gave the team good scoring with 18 points off the bench and hit timely shots, including a offensive rebound tip-in with 1:56 remaining to trim the Celtics lead to 4 points. Shake Milton pitched in 13 points on 3-5 shooting from deep. However, these performances were not enough to make up for the lack of offensive production from the frontcourt.
The game was fairly close, however, undisciplined basketball cost the 76ers the game. Turning the ball over is not the way to win against a team that ranks in the top 10 in the NBA in points off turnovers. The Celtics generated 21 points off 18 Sixers turnovers. The Sixers displayed a lackadaisical effort in crashing the boards as well. There were multiple times when a Celtics shot went up and the Sixers watched and waited for the ball to drop to them instead of showing assertiveness and crashing the boards. Yes, they won the rebound battle, but they lost the effort battle on the boards.
For years, Brett Brown has talked about how Joel Embiid is the “crown jewel” and how important he is to the organization. With the other franchise cornerstone out with injury it would be expected that Embiid would be given the ball and have his number called almost every time down the court, however, this was not the case. In a playoff game, Josh Richardson should not have more shot attempts that Joel Embiid. Sure, you can say the flow of the game dictated more looks for Richardson, but at some point you have to let Joel be Joel. Embiid is a generational talent with ability that no other big man in the NBA has and yet, coming down the stretch with the game in the balance, the ball wasn’t in his hands.
The Sixers are now down 0-1 and the lack of urgency they displayed at times in game 1 cannot be the same for game 2 on Wednesday.