The Boston Celtics needed their best players to answer the bell in Game 1 against the Philadelphia 76ers, and they delivered in a 109-101 victory.
Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Kemba Walker combined to score 81 points, 30 of which came in the fourth quarter to help Boston outscore Philly 34-22 over the final 12 minutes. The C's will need this trio to continue its strong play in Game 2 after Gordon Hayward left Monday night's series opener in the fourth quarter with a right ankle sprain.
Here are three takeaways from Game 1.
1. Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown relishing the playoff stage
The Celtics need Tatum to play at a superstar level if they are going to make a championship run, and his Game 1 performance showed he's more than up for that challenge. Tatum was on fire in the first half and led all players with 21 points (15 in the second quarter) on 7-for-13 shooting, along with eight rebounds. In fact, his 21 first-half points were the most by a Celtic in a playoff game since Avery Bradley in Game 5 of the 2017 Eastern Conference semifinals versus the Washington Wizards.
Tatum tied his career playoff high of 28 points with 6:53 left in the third quarter, and he set a new personal best with 32 points on 10-for-21 shooting. He also pulled down a team-high 13 rebounds and three blocks in 41 minutes. Tatum also became the youngest Celtic with 30 points and 10 rebounds in a playoff game.
Jaylen Brown was equally important in Boston's win. The 23-year-old guard scored 29 points, 15 of which came in the fourth quarter when Boston regained the lead after Philly took control with a 20-5 run to end the third quarter. Brown hit three 3-point shots in the fourth quarter, including one that gave the C's a 99-91 advantage with 4:28 remaining.
Tatum and Brown combined to score 61 points on 19-for-37 shooting (7-for-13 on 3-point shots) and 16-for-17 from the free throw line. According to ESPN Stats & Info, these young stars "are the first pair of Celtics teammates both 23 or younger with 25 points in the same playoff game."
Brown and Tatum represent a bright future of the Celtics, but there's no reason why this duo can't lead Boston on a title run in the immediate future.
2. C's defensive energy was impressive
The Sixers were hot from the field in the first half, but they had to work extremely hard for just about every single basket. Boston's defensive energy and intensity was at a very high level. Whether it was contesting shots, having active hands in passing lanes, diving on the floor for loose balls, or trapping ball handlers on the perimeter, the Celtics' effort on the defensive end of the floor was exactly what you want to see in the playoffs.
The Sixers were clearly bothered by the Celtics' defense as they committed 13 (!) first-half turnovers and finished with 19 overall. The C's also blocked four shots.
Boston's defense struggled a bit in the third quarter when Philly made a 20-5 run to take the lead after being down by double digits. But the Celtics made plenty of defensive stops in the fourth quarter to retake control of the game and secure the win.
The Celtics will have a strong chance to make a deep playoff run if they bring this kind of defensive intensity on a nightly basis.
3. Joel Embiid can't do it all by himself
Joel Embiid is an elite player, but someone else is going to have to step up offensively for the Sixers to have any chance at winning this series. The veteran center had a great start with 11 points in the first quarter, but the Celtics defense did much better on him the rest of the game.
Here's a breakdown of Embiid's scoring by quarter:
Q1: 11 points, 5-for-5 FGs Q2: 2 points, 0-for-2 FGs Q3: 6 points, 2-for-3 FGs Q4: 7 points, 1-for-5 FGs
Embiid finished with a team-high 26 points, 16 rebounds and two steals. Despite the strong performance overall, the All-Star center told reporters that he needs to do more.
It's admirable that Embiid wants to do more, but his teammates need to shoulder some of the burden, too. Embiid was the only 76ers player to score more than 20 points in Game 1. Tobias Harris is the team's No. 2 option offensively without Ben Simmons in the lineup, and the veteran forward poured in just 15 points on 6-for-15 shooting. He also missed all three of his 3-point attempts. Al Horford also needs to contribute offensively, but he managed to score only six points and was a minus-18 overall.
Embiid is going to have a great series. He's a phenomenal player and the Celtics don't have a premier low-post defender at center to slow him down. But he can't beat the Celtics alone, and the Sixers will be starting their offseason early if guys like Harris and Horford don't step up.