By: Kylan Watson
The Philadelphia 76ers and Boston Celtics met for the 22nd time for another playoff series. Throughout this game offense was optional, but when Philly needed it most James Harden and Tyrese Maxey pulled Philly over the finish line. Beating the Celtics 119-115 and taking the one game to none lead in the Eastern Conference semifinals.
The Sixers could not miss to start the game they did not play like a team that had 10 days off. They made the Celtics pay for giving them any space to get a shot off. Philly made 17/38 three-pointers and there was nothing Boston could do to stop them. The Sixers used their ball movement to perfection to get the high-percentage shot which throughout this game was a three-pointer or a wide-open two-pointer from the perimeter. Philly was in their bag tonight, but despite their hot shooting they were down by three-points by half-time. Defense was optional for both teams throughout the first half as the Celtics were shooting 77% from the field and Philly shot 55%.
Boston took full advantage of the paint being wide-open without Joel Embiid who despite his best efforts could not play tonight because of a knee-sprain. The Sixers were able to stop the Celtics three-point opportunities, but they just crossed the up and would get an open lay-up. Jayson Tatum (39-points and made four/five three-pointers) Jaylen Brown (23-points) combined for 62 of the Celtics’ 115-points. Both players were deadly throughout this game and when the Sixers would take away the three-point shot from them they both would use their quickness to attack the paint and get the Sixers defenders in foul trouble. Philly had to institute the two-three zone to stop Boston tonight. That seemed to stop Boston’s offensive momentum. They started to turn the ball over and that propelled a furious Sixers comeback in the third and fourth quarters. The Celtics dominated throughout this game and their lack of care for the ball cost them tonight. They made a costly error that put the Sixers back on top when Tyrese Maxey intercepted a Jaylen Brown pass for an easy dunk. Philly forced them to be perfect on offense and they could not do it tonight.
Philly was able to get the win tonight because of James Harden (45-points and made seven out of 14 three-pointers tonight) and Tyrese Maxey (26-points) who combined for 71 of the Sixers’ 119-points. Harden turned back the clock tonight as he made a meal out of the overmatched Celtics defenders. He was crossing them up and finishing in the paint and pulling up from beyond the arc and making back-breaking three-pointers that killed the Celtics momentum and gave Philly more and more confidence to steal one in Boston. This was a big game for Harden who reminded everybody that he can flip that switch back to the Houston days and put the team on his back to help Philly get their first win in Boston in a playoff game since 1981. If the Sixers get half of this effort from Harden, especially if Joel Embiid does not play until game three this will be a short series for the Celtics. His fellow back-court mate Tyrese Maxey hit two pivotal baskets in the fourth quarter, one lay-up that cut Boston’s lead to one-point and the dunk that put the Sixers back in front. This was a confidence building game for Maxey against a team that has been his kryptonite this whole season. He attacked his defender and used his quickness to get to the basket. A confident Tyrese Maxey is a good thing for the Sixers which was on display tonight and if he can continue to be opportunistic and pick the pockets of Boston’s players this good be a career defining series for him and Philly can get to their first conference finals since 2001.
On the difference between this team and last year’s; “We really believe. That’s the difference between this year‘s team and last year‘s team. We have a bunch of street fighters. If we can get to the fourth quarter, we believe we will win the game,” said 76ers Head Coach Doc Rivers.
For game two the Sixers will need to keep the ball moving to take advantage of a stingy Boston defense. Their offense is at its best when they can find the holes in the opposing team’s defense and get high-percentage shots. That’s what allowed them to win this game and it will need to be a big part of their plan if they want to beat the Celtics. Additionally, the Sixers will have to find a way to stay attached to their man and cut the paint off from Boston and make them a jump shooting team, which is not really their strong suit they thrive when the defense is disorganized and if you stay organized on defense, they can force the Celtics into making mistakes. They will need to implement all of these things if they want to take the two-to-nothing series lead over Boston.
On the team’s attitude for the rest of the series; “I mean, we didn’t come into the game, expecting to lose. We are here to win. Even after this game, I told the guys, ‘Don’t get too happy, like be even keel. We are coming in here in to get [victories].’ That’s the mindset that we have as a unit,” said Harden.