In Review | Coveted Win Over Celtics Caps Season's First Half
BOSTON - It wasn’t pretty, but it didn’t need to be.
Thursday night at TD Garden, the 76ers’ mission was to finally get over the hump against a division nemesis that had beaten them a week earlier in London, three previous meetings this season, and in 14 of the teams’ last 15 pairings overall.
Thanks to a stingy defensive effort, and key second-half contributions from their freshly-minted All-Star and his spunky sidekick, the Sixers broke through for a coveted victory over the Boston Celtics, 89-80.
Despite a late charge from the Cs that saw them rip off a 21-9 run over the final nine minutes of regulation, the Sixers hung on to salvage a win from the rivals’ four-game season series,. The triumph was their first in Beantown since April of 2014.
Thursday’s win was the Sixers’ second in a row, sixth in seven tries, and moved their record to 21-20 on the year, putting them over the .500 mark at the true halfway point of an 82-game season for the first time since the 2005-2006 campaign.
Brett Brown said afterwards he places a lot of stock in the Sixers’ recent upswing, especially given that they’ve now beaten Toronto and Boston - the East’s second and first-place teams, respectively - in succession.
“For us to come in here and build a lead, hold onto the lead, close out the game, and, at times, in not a pretty way, is a fantastic result for us,” the head coach said.
“[It’s] huge, we definitely needed this one,” said Ben Simmons, who tacked on 8 points (4-9 fg), 7 rebounds, 4 dimes, and a steal against the Celts. “They beat us three times. We just finally got a win when we needed to."
Learning he had become the first Sixer in seven years to be voted an All-Star Game starter less than an hour before tip-off, Joel Embiid delivered an effort worthy of his new designation. He led all participants Thursday with 26 points (10-19 fg, 6-7 ft), 16 rebounds, and 6 assists, each of those figures a game-high.
Embiid was particularly productive in Thursday’s second half, in which he tallied all but 8 of his points.
During a segment of the contest that bridged the third and fourth quarters, Embiid and T.J. McConnell combined to score 24 straight points, lifting the Sixers to a game-high 21 points lead along the way.
“We just had to say focused,” Embiid said.
For a second consecutive game, McConnell delivered impact minutes off the bench. He posted 14 points Thursday, after netting a career-best 18 points Monday versus Toronto.
Missing in action for the Sixers Thursday was JJ Redick (bone edema, small cortical crack left fibular head), while point guard Kyrie Irving (shoulder) was sidelined for Boston. Redick has averaged 17.3 points per game for the Sixers this season. Irving paces the Celts with 24.1 points per tilt.
Embiid Enjoys All-Star Night
Pumping out his 19th double-double in 32 opportunities this season, Joel Embiid submitted an All-Star worthy showing Thursday. Following the game, Brett Brown expressed nothing but happiness for the hard-working, difference-making big man, who’s pushed through a fair amount of adversity en route to receiving his latest honor.
“[It’s] like someone just gave one of your children a star, and put it on his paper,” said Brown. “It’s true! He and I have been doing this for a long time, and I have been with him the longest out of any of the players in the locker room. He’s gone through a lot, and to think that somebody that has played 63 games cumulatively and just for that small sample size is now on the All-Star team and starting, his story of perseverance is remarkable.
“It reflects the organization and the process we have all been going through. I’m very proud of him.”
Embiid has combined to generate 60 points and 27 boards the Sixers’ past two games, victories over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics. He’s been encouraged by the team’s progress, but has his long-term sights set high.
“It’s only one game over .500,” Embiid said. “I’m not happy yet.”
McConnell’s Scoring Spike
In addition to Joel Embiid’s dominance, T.J. McConnell asserting himself on the offensive end has been as noteworthy a development as any in the Sixers’ consecutive wins over the Toronto Raptors and Boston Celtics.
Much like he did in Monday’s game against the Raps, McConnell again flicked his scoring switch Thursday versus the Cs, this time in the waning moments of the third quarter. During the period’s final two and a half minutes, the third-year guard snapped off his first 9 points of the evening.
Then, two minutes into the fourth, McConnell nailed a 3-pointer to push the Sixers’ pad to 19. His 33 points between the Toronto and Boston match-ups represent the highest two-game scoring total of his career.
“I’m just shooting open shots,” said McConnell. “Teammates found me, and [shots] went in. Simple as that.”
Defense Steps Up
With the Sixers and Boston both down potent backcourt weapons in JJ Redick and Kyrie Irving, Thursday’s game played out as you might expect - in scrappy, grind-it-out, slog-fest fashion.
Brett Brown, however, was pleased with the Sixers’ defense, calling it “elite.” His club forced the Celtics into 15 turnovers within the first 18 minutes of play (and 19 for the night), and held Boston to 40.5 percent shooting overall.
“They were missing their best scorer,” said Joel Embiid, “but we still did a good job denying everything. We disrupted their whole offense.
“Last time we played them [in London], when they had the comeback, they were more physical than us, so tonight, I think we were were more physical than them.”
Early in Thursday’s third quarter, the October-November Eastern Conference Rookie of the Month award winner found himself matched up against the honor’s December recipient. Needless to say, Ben Simmons, in this particular sequence, had his way.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) January 19, 2018
The Sixers will cap a stretch of the schedule against several Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls Saturday when they host the Milwaukee Bucks. Ranked sixth in the standings, and just one-half game in front of the Sixers, Milwaukee learned Thursday that versatile forward Giannis Antetokounmpo will be headed to his second straight All-Star Game. The 23-year old is averaging 28.2 points, 10.1 rebounds, 4.6 assists, 1.5 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game.