Embiid’s Emphatic Effort Gives Sixers Edge in Game 1 of Philly Miniseries

The Boston Celtics went into one of the toughest road cities without their superstar player Wednesday night and nearly came away with a victory.

The only factor that stood in their way was that Philadelphia’s superstar player, Joel Embiid, happened to be on his A-game. And his 42-point, 10-rebound effort was just enough to give the Eastern Conference-leading 76ers a 117-109 edge over a Jayson Tatum-less Celtics team.

Given the circumstances of the loss, Celtics coach Brad Stevens wasn’t at all disappointed in his team’s effort after the game. In fact, he actually saw it as a step up from some of their recent victories. “I thought we played a lot better tonight than we have in some of our wins,” he said, “and we got beat by a good team, and a great player had a great game.”

Slowing down that great player will be Boston’s top priority heading into Friday night’s rematch at Wells Fargo Center. And its first point of attack will be figuring out how to keep Embiid away from the free-throw line as much as possible, after allowing him to take 21 trips to the charity stripe Wednesday night.

“We’ve got to do our best to play without fouling,” said Stevens. "I’ll go back and look at each [foul], figure out what we can do better. He’s gonna score some, but 42 is too much. It’s gonna be hard to win a game when the best player on the other team scores 42 points.

“He not only scored those points, but he also handled the double pretty well on a couple of occasions that led to three points. He had a huge impact on the game tonight and he was terrific. We’ll look at the film and see where we can improve.”

Daniel Theis, who had the pleasure of defending Embiid for a significant portion of Wednesday’s game, says the best way they can improve is by trying to force the ball out of the All-NBA center’s hands.

“We know Joel is probably the best big in the whole league,” said Theis, who tallied a season-high 23 points along with 10 rebounds. “He's a great player. Obviously, he shot a lot of free throws too so it's hard for us when we play physical and stay strong. We've got to do a better job getting the ball out of his hands so other guys can score the ball instead of him.”

But that’s not something that Theis can do by himself. He knows that, and his teammates know that as well.

“We’ve got to help our bigs,” said Kemba Walker, who in his second game back from injury tallied 19 points and six assists during 22 minutes of action. “Stopping Embiid is not a one-on-one thing. That’s close to being impossible. You can stop him a few times, but you’ve got to count on your teammates to help stop that man.”

There is a possibility that the Celtics could get some extra help Friday night if Tatum is available to play. The All-NBA wing was able to work out in Boston today and is “feeling great,” according to Stevens. Though, there are still a few tests that he must pass before being cleared to play.

If Tatum passes those tests and is given the green light to play Friday night, then the Celtics would be in a much better position to counter Embiid and the 76ers in Game 2 of their miniseries.

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