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Leftover Anger from Monday's Loss Ignites Boston's Game 2 Blowout Win

BOSTON – Joe Mazzulla summed up his team’s emotions during the 46-hour span between Monday’s Game 1 loss and Wednesday’s Game 2 tip-off in two words:

“Angry. Pissed.”

When asked if he saw that as a good leading up to the second game of the second round, the first-year head coach provided an even briefer answer:

“Yes.”

Fueled by their anger, still pissed off that they let Game 1 slip out of their grasp, the Boston Celtics came out Wednesday night and showed what they were really made of.

The result: a 121-87 bounce-back win to even their series with the Philadelphia 76ers at one game apiece.

Mazzulla wanted his team to tighten up their defense following a 119-115 defeat in the series opener, and that’s exactly what the Celtics did. It marked the first time all season that they held an opponent under 90 points, and their tenacious defense led to fluid offense and the third-largest margin of victory in the franchise's playoff history.

Jaylen Brown set the tone from the jump by applying full-court pressure on James Harden, determined to limit the former MVP after the C's had allowed him to go off for a playoff career-high-tying 45 points in Game 1. This time around, Brown and his teammates limited Harden to a 2-of-14 shooting effort from the field, including 0-for-6 from 3-point range.

“He did a phenomenal job tonight,” Grant Williams said of Brown’s defensive performance. “When he brings that intensity and that effort – at the start of the game especially – it just locks us in on a different level, especially on the defensive side of the basketball, which we need. Right from the jump, he set that tone. Whenever somebody subbed in and they didn't pick up full, he was yelling at them to pick up full. It really set that physical nature and it gives us that opportunity to really be a different team and play fast this game."

Brown didn’t approve of the team’s lack of urgency on that end of the floor in Game 1 after allowing the Sixers to score more than 30 points in three out of the four quarters. They responded in Game 2 by limiting Philly to less than 28 points in all four frames, including a 35-16 advantage in the third quarter.

“I think we’ve just gotta take more pride in ourselves and that's it, you know?” said Brown, who finished with game-highs of 25 points, four assists, and two steals. “I just feel like we underperformed last game and wanted to come out and play to the best of our ability and that's what we did.”

What made Boston’s defensive effort even more impressive was that it ocurred despite Joel Embiid’s return to Philly’s lineup. The league MVP missed Game 1 with a sprained LCL in his right knee, and the Celtics did everything in their power to limit him in his return to just 15 points on 4-of-9 shooting from the field. It was quite a difference from the 52-point effort he had against Boston on April 4.

“You have to give him different looks,” Mazzulla said of the defensive strategy against the back-to-back scoring champion. “You have to be physical, you have to try to defend without fouling, and you have to defend him as a team, which I thought our guys did.”

As satisfying as the win was, the Celtics don’t want to put themselves in a similar situation again. They need to win the games they’re supposed to win, and they need to come out with the same level of intensity no matter what the previous result was.

“You never want to go into a game where you feel like you let one go,” said Williams, who scored 12 points off the bench while making 4-of-8 from long range. “We did that too much last year. We’ve done that too much this year. It definitely gives you a certain edge, but now it’s a matter of, can you do the same thing in the next game? Does that edge stay or does that edge go away? Because now all of a sudden it’s 1-1 and you take your foot off the pedal, off the gas. We can’t do that. For us, it’s just a matter of maintaining that same physicality, that same intensity, that same approach going into the game because that will be vital in this series. Because we can’t be the first ones to break. We have to bend but never break.”

The only breaking the Celtics are aiming for is breaking the 1-1 tie in their favor Friday night in Philadelphia.

Hopefully that angry, pissed-off mindset sticks with them.