Boston’s Interior Defense Shuts Down Embiid, Sixers

In past matchups, Joel Embiid and the Philadelphia 76ers have torched the Boston Celtics inside the paint. However, on Wednesday night, the combination of Al Horford and Robert Williams totally shut them down, en route to an 88-87 win at TD Garden.

Embiid entered the night with career averages of 26.5 points per game on 46.7 percent shooting from the field in 14 regular-season matchups with the Celtics. This time around, he was held to 13 points on 3-of-17 shooting from the field, marking just the fourth time in his career that he was held below 20 percent shooting from the field. He also shot just 1-of-9 from inside the paint.

As a team, Boston limited Philadelphia to a 37.1 percent shooting clip from the field – its lowest mark of the season. The Sixers only scored 28 points in the paint, in large part due to the rim protection provided by Boston’s double-big lineup.

Horford logged a game-high of five blocked shots, while Williams swatted three, including the game-sealing block of Georges Niang’s game-winning 3-point attempt at the buzzer.

“We really dug in late in the game when we had to and, as you can see on that last play, guys scrambled around, defended at a high level there and then got the shot block,” C’s head coach Ime Udoka said after the game. “As we said all year, we're going to rely on our defense and to hold the team to 87, you'd like to score more than 88, obviously, but we did what we were supposed to defensively in holding Joel to 3-for-17.”

This game had a little extra meaning for Horford in going up against his former team and his old frontcourt teammate. The 15-year veteran rose to the occasionby logging 10 points and eight rebounds to go along with his handful of swats.

“He was excited as we all were - myself, him, and Josh (Richardson) spent that year together in Philly,” Udoka said. “We know what the rivalry means when you’re part of it between the two teams. Al has a history of going against Joel in many playoff series. We challenge him to take pride in that matchup. It’s a guy he knows well playing with him and against him. 3-for-17, total team effort, digging in and making plays on him. But Al did have some excitement there. You could see it there when Rob got the shot blocked (to seal the win), Al was screaming pretty loud.”

Horford and Williams are beginning to form significant chemistry together, which is molding them into a lethal double-big combo.

Combined, they’re averaging 21.9 points 17.9 rebounds, and 3.5 blocks per game this season.

“I think Rob is a very smart player,” Horford said of Williams while discussing their on-court dynamic. “He knows to play, he knows how to kind of find his way on the court, and I feel like he’s very easy to play with. And I think my ability to be able to stretch the floor and shoot threes and be in different positions, I think it just helps. I think that’s the way that we’re able to play together.”

On Wednesday night, they needed to play together in order to clog the lane against Embiid and Sixers. And that’s exactly what they did, while also receiving a boost from Jayson Tatum, who logged a game-high 26 points and a career-high 16 rebounds.

“I felt like we had a great team effort,” Williams said. “That was the emphasis: one person can’t guard [Embiid], so I felt like we did a good job.”

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