BOSTON — No Joel Embiid. No T.J. McConnell. No day off in between games. No home-court advantage.
With all those factors against them Thursday, the Sixers still made their matchup against the NBA-best Celtics competitive even if the 108-97 final score doesn’t reflect that fact.
The Sixers overcame a 10-point halftime deficit as they opened the second half on a 22-10 burst to lead by two. However, they still ended up trailing, 76-71, after three quarters. Despite several pushes by the Sixers, the Celtics were able to turn their advantage back into a double-digit lead to put the game away.
The Sixers dropped to 12-9 on the season and 1-2 without Embiid, while Boston improved to 19-4.
• Let’s get to the hot topic: would there be Round 2 of Hack-a-Ben? Ben Simmons actually attempted just four free throws (3 for 4). The Celtics, unlike the Wizards, weren’t in a position where they needed to stall the Sixers’ offense to dig out of a 20-point hole. Simmons posted 15 points, six assists and seven rebounds in another 40-minute night.
• Dario Saric thrives when he gets the opportunity for more touches. That’s the case without Embiid. Saric recorded an 18-point, 10-rebound double-double, and added four assists in 35 minutes.
• Robert Covington struggled to find an offensive groove. He went 3 for 10 from long range with two of those makes not coming until the final 6:05 of play. JJ Redick, on the other hand, was an efficient 4 for 6 from long range (17 points).
• Kyrie Irving got the job done for the Celtics all over the court. Of his 36 points, 15 were on threes and seven were at the line. Al Horford poured in another 21 points. Jayson Tatum, who will be linked to the Sixers because of the No. 1 pick swap, added 15 points. The rookie has settled in nicely with the Celtics’ starting five.
• Brett Brown started Amir Johnson in place of Embiid. He went with the veteran over Richaun Holmes because Johnson has been the backup center for most of the season. Johnson had six points, six rebounds and four assists.
• Holmes was focused on using his athleticism to bring energy off the bench. He connected on hustle plays fighting at the basket and finished with nine points and seven boards. Holmes did not play in the previous game against the Wizards.
• Johnson took a loud spill and stayed down on the ground in the second quarter. The veteran got up and stayed in the game. Later, Johnson came up walking gingerly after getting tripped up and fouled by Daniel Theis while running the break off his own steal. The Sixers can count on Johnson to battle through whatever he can. He came into the league on the Pistons with tough-minded players like Rasheed Wallace and Ben Wallace to show him the NBA ropes.
• The Sixers traveled light to Boston. Four players were not with the team. Markelle Fultz (right shoulder) is in Kentucky for physical therapy. Embiid stayed back as part of his back-to-back restriction. McConnell, who suffered a sprained AC joint in his left shoulder on Wednesday, expectedly remained in Philadelphia. Jahlil Okafor did not make the trip either, listed as individualized training.
• Simmons looked like he was trying out for the Sixers’ Dunk Squad with this move:
Check out Ben Simmons with the crazy reverse follow slam. pic.twitter.com/E5ERDBvGYQ— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) December 1, 2017
• Injury updates: In addition to those noted above, Justin Anderson remains out (left leg). Boston’s Gordon Hayward (left ankle) has been out since opening night.
• Former Sixer (and former Celtic) Dana Barros was in attendance. Barros is a community relations consultant for the Celtics.