Play Harder. 

Bring more effort. 

The Boston Celtics’ focus coming into Thursday’s game against Philadelphia short and simple. 

But executing it, even with Philly’s Joel Embiid (finger surgery) out, was not going to be easy.

Even with a strong start to the game, the Celtics couldn’t put the Sixers away in the fourth as they suffered a 109-98 loss. 

The fact that it was Boston’s third loss in a row, a first for them this season, is a tough pill to swallow. 

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But what hurts Boston (25-11) even more is the fact that they have now lost all three games against the Sixers this season, giving Philly the head-to-head series for the first time since the 2013-2014 season, which could come into play if these two finish with an identical record. 

“It’s important for us,” Al Horford told NBA TV’s Kristen Ledlow when asked about the importance of winning the season series. “It’s good to get a quality win.”


No Joel Embiid, no problem. There were a number of players who stepped up for the Sixers in Embiid’s absence. But no one impacted the game more than ex-Celtic Al Horford. 

As was the case when he was in Boston, there are so many little things that Horford does consistently that add value to any team he plays for. 

We saw that on full display Thursday, more than usual in large part because of Embiid’s absence. 


There was nothing that Horford did that the Celtics hadn’t seen this season or for that matter, the previous three years when he played in Boston. 

Horford, who had 17 points, eight rebounds and two blocked shots, stepped up when the Sixers needed leadership. 

And as he often did when he was a Celtic, Horford delivered while the Celtics (25-11) now find themselves trying to regroup after yet another tough loss. 


Walker delivered in a big way to start the game, scoring 13 points in the first quarter. But the Sixers adjusted defensively in limiting him to 13 points over the next three quarters before he finished with a team-high 26 points. 

Walker’s final numbers for the night were good, for sure. 

But the way the team’s other key players were struggling, this was a game in which good-playing Kemba was not good enough. 

They needed Walker to be great and he wasn’t. 

Most nights, good-playing Kemba is going to be enough to win but the Sixers are a different team (especially at home) and in many ways, cause more problems for Boston without Joel Embiid than when he’s available to play. 


I guess Marcus Smart Day came a day later than planned. Because other than Kemba Walker, no other Celtic got into an offensive groove more than Smart. He would finish with a season-high 24 points which included five made 3-pointers. 

The second of those 3’s gave him 500 made 3’s for his career which put him in some pretty exclusive company - only five other Celtics have made as many 3’s in Boston. 

But historical relevance was the farthest thing from Smart’s mind on Thursday. 

Like the rest of his teammates, he was focused on doing whatever he could to help Boston get back on a winning track after losing their last two games coming into Thursday’s matchup with Philly. 

Now that the losing skid has been extended to three in a row, Boston’s ability to bounce back will be put to the ultimate test this season when they return to action on and kick off a three-game homestand with New Orleans on Saturday. 


Jaylen Brown.

Jayson Tatum.

Gordon Hayward.

We have seen them all deliver at different times for Boston this season. 

But on Thursday, they were collectively as bad scoring the ball as we’ve seen all season. 

You certainly have to credit the Sixers defense which ranks among the better units, with or without Joel Embiid. 

But a big part of Boston’s shooting struggles had to do with them collectively missing open shots, or shots that they normally knock down. 

For the game, the Brown-Tatum-Hayward triumvirate shot a combined 10-for-36 from the field, or 27.8 percent. 

Regardless of the opponent, when three of the top four or five scorers collectively shoot so poorly it’s difficult to compete, let alone win a game. 


The good news for the Celtics is what we saw on Thursday has not been something we have seen with any kind of consistency in the past, so it’s easy to brush it off as just one of those bad shooting nights. 

The lesson isn’t in the loss, but how they respond to it this weekend against New Orleans.

Highlights: C's lose 3rd straight to Embiid-less SIxers

Don't miss NBC Sports Boston's coverage of Pelicans-Celtics, which tips off Saturday at 6:30 p.m. with Celtics Pregame Live, and then Mike and Scal have the call at 7 p.m. You can also stream the game on the MyTeams App.