Team Shows Mettle in Win Over Boston
If the Seventy Sixers' (25-14) third matchup of the season with the archrival Boston Celtics (25-11) were simply an exercise in dealing with adversity, they would have acquitted themselves well.
That the Sixers not only showed admirable fight in the absence of Joel Embiid, but also emerged with a critical division and conference win, 109-98, made their performance all the more impressive.
About 45 minutes before the tip of Thursday's game at The Center, the Sixers announced they would be without the services of their All-Star big man due to impending surgery on his left hand.
A couple hours later, they were sitting pretty with a victory in their annual four-game regular season series with Boston in hand - a first since 2013-2014.
The Sixers have now beaten the Celtics in four straight regular season pairings dating back to last year. It's their longest winning streak in the rivalry since winning eight in a row from 2000 through 2002.
Down their leading scorer and rebounder in Embiid, the Sixers got a big boost from Josh Richardson. The off-season acquisition went for a game-high 29 points (9-16 fg, 10-10 ft), his second-highest total of the year.
In tallying 13 points in Thursday's opening quarter, Richardson assumed a critical role in setting an aggressive tone for the game. By bursting for 14 points in the fourth, he was crucial to putting it away.
With Richardson dialed in, the Sixers saved their best for last, outscoring the Celtics 32-18 in the final frame. Boston trimmed the gap to two points, 96-94, with 4:30 to play, but the Sixers held the C's scoreless on their next five possessions, while mounting a decisive 9-0 spurt.
Fittingly, it was Al Horford, the former Celtic now being entrusted with manning the five-spot for the Sixers with Embiid sidelined, who capped the late-game run with a 10-foot baseline dagger.
Horford finished the evening with 17 points (7-11 fg, 2-3 3fg), eight rebounds, six assists, and two blocks. His plus-19 rating was a team-high.
Ben Simmons (19 pts, 9 reb, 3 ast) and Tobias Harris (16 pts, 7 reb, 3 ast) tallied double-digits as well. Furkan Korkmaz provided the Sixers with vital insurance thanks to two fourth-quarter threes, and Norvelle Pelle (6 pts, 3-3 fg, 2 blk) supplied an inspiring two-way presence in relief of Horford.
The Sixers trailed 35-26 after Thursday's first quarter, only to fall behind by as many as 15 in the second. An 11-0 surge at the outset of the third period vaulted the Sixers back in front, and proved a precursor for positive things to come the rest of the night.
The Sixers manufactured comfortable advantages on the glass (48-38), in the paint (50-38), and on the break (19-7). The triumph was their second in a row.
In first game action since December 21st, Matisse Thybulle chipped in with five rebounds and two assits. He logged 19 minutes.
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