Jerryd Bayless

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

Joel Embiid shows Celtics why he's an All-Star

BOX SCORE

BOSTON — The Sixers narrowly avoided a regular-season sweep by the Celtics with a 89-80 win Thursday night.

The Kyrie Irving-less Celtics cut the Sixers’ 21-point lead down to seven with two minutes to play, a margin that seemed closer because of Boston’s swarming defense.

The Sixers went scoreless for two minutes before T.J. McConnell hit a pair of free throws with 30 seconds left. They snapped a seven-game losing skid at TD Garden dating back to their last road victory there on April 4, 2014.

The Sixers are back above .500 at 21-20. The Celtics dropped to 34-12. 

• On the night Joel Embiid was named an All-Star starter (see story), he posted his 19th double-double and 24th 20-point game of the season. Embiid finished with 26 points, 16 rebounds and six assists in 35 minutes.

• Celtics leading scorer Irving did not play because of a sore left shoulder.

“It’s nothing too crazy,” Irving said. “It was just giving me a little discomfort over the last few weeks. I’ve been playing through it.”

Irving averaged 25.7 points, 5.3 rebounds and 4.7 assists in three games against the Sixers this season.

• The Celtics struggled offensively in the second quarter (13 points). The Sixers held them to 32 points in the first half, the fewest first-half points by the Celtics against the Sixers since Dec. 28, 2012. Overall, the Celtics’ 80 points were a season low.

• The Sixers led the Celtics, 71-53, after the third quarter. In all of their storied meetings, this was only the fourth time in Sixers history they held the Celtics to 53 points or less through the third.

• The Celtics entered the night tied for eighth-fewest turnovers per game (13.3). They uncharacteristically committed 15 in the first half alone (19 on the night).

• Dario Saric added 16 points and six rebounds. Ben Simmons recorded eight points, seven rebounds and four assists.

• McConnell gave another boost off the bench (15 points). He scored nine points (4 for 4 from the field) in the third alone.

• Bigs Al Horford and Marcus Morris led the Celtics with 14 points each. Jaylen Brown broke out of a scoreless first half to finish with 12 points.

• Justin Anderson saw increased minutes (16) in the absence of JJ Redick (left fibula injury). Jerryd Bayless started at shooting guard.

• Two-way contract player James Young returned to Boston, where he spent his first three NBA seasons with the Celtics.

How Sixers plan to replace JJ Redick

How Sixers plan to replace JJ Redick

CAMDEN, N.J. — After Sixers’ practice Wednesday, a reporter asked coach Brett Brown, “Are you concerned about the shooting without [JJ Redick] in there?”

Brown responded, “What do you think?”

Clearly, JJ Redick’s left knee injury is a blow for the Sixers (see story). With Redick sidelined, a combination of Jerryd Bayless, Justin Anderson, Timothé Luwawu-Cabarrot and possibly the recently acquired James Young will have to fill a huge shooting void. Brown said Bayless will start in Redick’s place.

Brown noted the Sixers' offense won’t change radically, but that the other guards will need to focus on off-ball movement without Redick in the lineup.

“JJ is amongst the league’s elite movers,” Brown said. “We need to move Jerryd more. [Robert Covington] is a little bit ground-bound at times. You’ve all sort of seen our structure enough to know almost what we’re hoping to do. And it’s movement. We don’t have to change anything, we just have to do what we do.

"Historically, [Bayless’] role has been stuck in a corner and spotting up, or loop him up to the top and put him in a rub. We’re trying to do more than that, and I think he can shine in that environment.”

Outside of his shooting, the threat of Redick’s jumper draws defenders away from the lane. His absence may make getting to the basket harder work for Ben Simmons.

“I think everybody just has to step up and fill that role,” Simmons said. “We need scoring. He helps us get a lot of shots by being a great shooter, so we need to work on getting our own shots.”

Redick has made more three-point shots (98) than Bayless, Anderson, and Luwawu-Cabarrot combined (95) this season in 34 fewer attempts. Bayless has shot better as a starter (40.4 percent from three-point range) than when he comes off the bench (35.3 percent).

According to Brown, Bayless’ most productive recent game, on Dec. 30 at Denver, may be a blueprint the team uses moving forward. Bayless scored 14 points on 6 of 10 shooting (2 of 3 from three-point territory) in a 107-102 Sixers’ win. Brown said he made a concerted effort to call plays for Bayless, and that the veteran guard responded by making big shots.

It also seems likely that, without Redick’s 17.3 points per game in the lineup, the Sixers will have to lean more heavily on Joel Embiid and Ben Simmons for scoring. But while those two are always front and center, Redick’s injury means Bayless will shift into the spotlight.

Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

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USA Today Images

Someone finally missed that shot vs. the Sixers

Eric Gordon. Brandon Ingram. De'Aaron Fox. 

The Sixers have a nearly unparalleled knock for getting killed by big shots in the final minute, one they haven't shown much flair for reciprocating since T.J. vs. the Knicks. Seems like every time the ball finds its way to an opposing shooter beyond the arc with that guy's team down two and a Sixers defender lunging in his direction, the ball inevitably goes down, usually taking Philly's hope along with it. 

Not last night. The scene was certainly set in Denver: Sixers get out to a decent-sized late lead, get impossibly tight down the stretch, give up silly turnovers and allow the other team to slowly (or quickly) creep its way back in the game. And so an 11-point margin had shrunk to three in the final minute, with the Nuggets skipping the ball around the perimeter until it ended up in the hands of Will Barton, free for a look as Jerryd Bayless scrambled to throw a hand in his face. To say that Sixers fans had seen this movie more times than all 23 Rocky movies combined would still be an understatement. 

But somehow, the shot was long, and clanked off the back rim. Dario Saric (sort of) secured the rebound, and the Sixers held on for the 107-102 victory. Yes, Virginia: Somebody finally missed that goddamn shot against the Philadelphia 76ers. 

Good thing, too, because the Sixers needed that win, for a number of reasons. Most crucially, taking down the Nuggets without Joel Embiid basically squares the Sixers for their embarrassing road loss in Portland minus the Blazers' best player, and prevents them from slipping to five games under .500, a detour from the playoff hunt that would've been pretty tough for the Ballers to navigate their way back from. With a win tonight in Phoenix, the Sixers could even potentially end this five-game road stint with a winning record -- no small thing, especially considering when we get back to the WFC, they're slated for four toughies against the Spurs, Pistons, Celtics and Raptors.

And getting the win without Embiid -- their first such W in their last seven tries -- was undoubtedly huge for the team's (and Brett Brown's) confidence and sanity, considering how despairing they've looked without JoJo of late. The Sixers' calendar-ending back-to-back set is at least the last such two-fer the team will have until late January, so they should have JoJo available most nights, but you never know with the star center, and if the Sixers want any chance of making the postseason, they can't afford to just write off every game where he's not playing. 

As big as it is to get the W, though, it wouldn't be terribly realistic to look at this as a feel-good win. The Sixers did blow the game -- going up 103-97 with four minutes to go, and then not scoring again until Denver was forced to foul in final half-minute -- but the Nuggets just didn't capitalize on their late-game ineptitude well enough to steal back the victory. Ben Simmons played splendidly as usual on defense but was largely terrible on offense, ending with just six and six with five turnovers, his most ineffective game in the midst of what surely marks the roughest stretch of his rookie season. 

In truth, the Sixers were bailed out of this one by their backup backcourt, McConnell and Bayless. We're used to T.J. playing savior by now -- 10 points and eight assists in 25 minutes, including a gorgeous floor-length laser of a dime to Robert Covington that's certainly one for the end-of-year sizzle reel -- but Bayless' clutch play in the early fourth was an extremely pleasant surprise, as he scored a quick seven to start the quarter and get the Sixers the separation they needed to hang on when he and the rest of the team ran out of miracles later in the quarter. 

Final game of 2017 tonight in Phoenix, presumably with Joel this time. If you told us at the beginning of the season the Sixers would be entering 2018 at 17-19... it wouldn't exactly feel like a triumph, but it'd least be "OK, fair enough." Seems to me that "OK, fair enough" is reasonable thing to shoot for at year's end, no? 

Have mercy on us, Devin Booker.