The Boston Celtics were hoping to keep their positive momentum going against the Philadelphia 76ers. They were riding a two-game winning streak where they had played well against the Hornets and the Rockets.
Everyone knew Joel Embiid and the Sixers would be a different beast, but there was hope that the game would be competitive.
Instead, the C's floundered early. After a 22-3 second quarter run, the Sixers never looked back. They kept the C's largely at an arm's length for the game, and though the final margin was just 10 points, it never felt close.
The Celtics missed Evan Fournier in this one. Though the bench totaled 27 points, it was scattered between eight different players and didn't match the 35 points per game the bench had generated in Fournier's previous two outings. However, he wasn't the only Celtic that was missed on Tuesday night.
Here are three observations from the Celtics' loss, which drops them below .500 (25-26) on the season.
Tristan Thompson's absence was felt vs. Joel Embiid
Tristan Thompson missed his 13th consecutive game against the Philadelphia 76ers. While the Celtics have largely gotten by just fine without the big man, they really missed his presence on Tuesday night.
For most of the game, the Celtics couldn't contain Embiid at all. It wasn't a surprise that the C's had trouble in this area. They had struggled against Embiid in two early-season meetings with the Sixers, as he had averaged a whopping 40 points and 10.5 rebounds per game in those contests.
But without Thompson available, they were particularly ill-equipped to contain the star center.
During the contest, the MVP candidate racked up 35 points and a whopping 20 free throw attempts. He was able to dominate Robert Williams, who committed three fouls in just six minutes of action in the first half and played just 14 minutes before fouling out. The Time Lord just continued to bite on Embiid's pump fake during his outing which led to the foul trouble.
Behind Williams, the team had few proven options to throw at Embiid. The team got creative throwing a combination of Luke Kornet, Tacko Fall, and even the Grant Williams/Semi Ojeleye lineup at him, but nothing got the trick done.
Thompson may not have made much of a difference. He wasn't great against the Sixers this year and held a minus-9 average in two games against them this year.
But at the very least, he would've added another strong, capable center to try against Embiid. That's certainly something that the C's needed on Tuesday.
The Celtics need to get to the line more
On the year, the Celtics have struggled when it comes to free throws in a variety of ways, and their loss to the 76ers was a perfect example of one of them. They simply struggle to get to the line.
Against the 76ers, the Celtics only managed 18 attempts on the game while the Sixers got to the line an absurd 39 times. Embiid was responsible for 20 of those attempts, and that highlighted a massive issue that the C's have had against Philly.
In their three meetings with the 76ers this year, all losses, the C's have only shot 58 free throws. That's barely more than Embiid has had in those games alone.
Of course, an argument can be made that Embiid is getting the benefit of the whistle too much, but regardless, the C's don't get to the line enough. They simply don't drive to the hoop and absorb the contact needed to get chances at free throws.
The C's entered Tuesday's game averaging just 20.8 free throws per game, tied for 22nd in the NBA. None of their players rank among the top 30 in free throws drawn per game. Jayson Tatum (4.5 per game), Jaylen Brown (4.4), and Evan Fournier (4.2) are all in the top 40, but Fournier has just joined the C's a couple of weeks ago while Tatum and Brown need to do more as star players to get to the line.
Moving forward, the Celtics need to be more aggressive and get to the rim. If they keep settling for contested stepbacks instead of absorbing contact and drawing fouls, free throws will continue to be an issue for the team.
Turnovers badly hurt the Celtics
You're not going to win a lot of games when you lose the turnover margin by nine. That's exactly what happened for the Celtics on Tuesday.
The C's tied a season-high with 22 turnovers against the Sixers. Philadelphia made the most of their opportunities, as the Sixers were able to generate 21 points off those turnovers.
Meanwhile, the Sixers gave up the ball 13 times, and while the Celtics did well to generate 18 points off those turnovers, they were never going to win the points off turnovers battle when such a wide margin separated the two teams.
Also, because of their poor ball security, the Celtics were only able to take 70 shots against Philly. Coupled with their inability to get to the line, that limited their scoring ceiling and explains why they scored their fewest total points since a March 19 game against the Sacramento Kings.
Hopefully the C's will bounce back against the New York Knicks on Wednesday night. They can't afford to make many mistakes against Tom Thibodeau's defensive-minded club.