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Sixers Squeeze by Shorthanded C’s to Avoid Season Series Sweep

The Philadelphia 76ers escaped a season series sweep to the Boston Celtics Tuesday night, but just barely.

It took 52 points from Joel Embiid and an unanticipated 3-point flurry from P.J. Tucker for Philly to squeeze by with a 103-101 win over a shorthanded Celtics team at Wells Fargo Center, marking its only victory out of four matchups this season.

However, just like in the other three matchups, the Celtics had the better overall team effort overall. This time, they just weren’t rewarded for it in the win column.

Embiid carried his team for most of the game, scoring more than half of their points while shooting 20-of-25 from the field and 12-of-13 from the free-throw line to go along with 13 rebounds, six assists, and two blocks. And unexpected hero P.J. Tucker carried them down the stretch, tying his season-high in 3-pointers with three makes all in in the final three minutes of action.

Outside of allowing those two individual efforts, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla felt pleased with his team’s performance because they were the better team in just about every other category despite the absences of Jaylen Brown and Rob Williams.

The Celtics made four more 3-pointers than Philly, dished out seven more assists, committed two fewer turnovers, grabbed more than twice as many offensive rebounds (13-6), had a 15-0 advantage in fast-break points, a 21-7 advantage in second-chance points, and an 18-10 advantage in bench points.

Winning all of those margins would likely earn a win 99 times out of 100, but this game proved to be an all-around anomaly.

"It's funny how that is the recipe for success for our team more times than not, is to win on the margins,” Mazzulla said in his post-game press conference. “I thought we did a lot of good things throughout the entire game, but you have a special night by a guy, and they made some big shots down the stretch."

The Celtics also made some big plays down the stretch that allowed them to stay in the game until the end. They were trailing by seven points with less than six seconds remaining, but Marcus Smart and Derrick White both made miraculous plays to shave five points off the deficit in less than a four-second span.

First, Smart hit an and-one layup to cut the deficit to five. Then, he intentionally missed his free-throw, flew in to grab his own rebound, and whipped a mid-air, no-look pass around Embiid to Al Horford, who then fed White for a wild, off-balance 3-pointer, giving White a team-high 26 points for the game.

The C’s then drew an offensive foul with 2.0 seconds remaining, giving them an opportunity to tie or win the game on the final possession. However, Jayson Tatum clanked a mid-range attempt off the back of the rim as time expired.

Boston came so close to pulling off a rare four-game sweep of its Atlantic Division rival, all while playing without two of its key players and allowing its highest individual scoring effort since Devin Booker’s 70-point game on March 24, 2017. (The last player to score at least 52 points in a win against the Celtics was Michael Jordan on Nov. 9, 1988, when he dropped 52 points in a 110-104 Chicago Bulls win.)

However, there are no moral victories for a championship contender, so the C’s will be happy to brush off the first game of their back-to-back before returning home to face the Toronto Raptors Wednesday night.