The Boston Celtics couldn't hold on vs. the Philadelphia 76ers on Monday night in what marked yet another frustrating defeat.
A disastrous fourth quarter was the difference as the C's were on the wrong side of an 18-6 run to seal Philly's 108-103 victory. The Sixers had only one bench point, but it didn't matter as the trio of Joel Embiid, Seth Curry, and Tobias Harris combined for 92 in the battle between two short-handed teams.
Here are three instant takeaways from the C's win, which brings them to 15-16 on the season. Next up is another home game vs. the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday night.
Can't keep Joel Embiid down forever
In the Celtics' 88-87 win over the Sixers on Dec. 1, Embiid couldn't get anything to fall. Boston's defense on the 76ers star was a masterclass as he had a modest 13 points while shooting 3 for 17 from the field.
That defensive effort was not duplicated Monday night.
Embiid bounced back to do what Embiid often does. The four-time All-Star dropped a game-high 41 points (14-27 FG) with 10 rebounds, five assists, four blocks, and two steals.
He also hit the dagger late in the fourth quarter.
The absences of Al Horford, Robert Williams, and Grant Williams were glaring as the C's simply couldn't keep Embiid in check, especially in crunch time. While both teams were undermanned, Boston undoubtedly was the more short-handed team with no one to challenge Embiid inside. That proved to be the difference.
Payton Pritchard makes his case
The Celtics were competitive up until that fourth-quarter collapse largely due to the efforts of Payton Pritchard. While Tatum and Dennis Schroder (8 pts, 3-10 FG) struggled offensively, Pritchard provided a spark off the bench with 14 points (6-9 FG) and three rebounds in 22 minutes.
The second-year guard also shined on the defensive end with two steals.
Pritchard has made the most of his opportunities these last couple of games. In Saturday's win over the New York Knicks, the 23-year-old dropped 16 points in 28 minutes. Even when the C's finally get healthy, head coach Ime Udoka will have to seriously consider making Pritchard a part of the rotation going forward. He already proved last year that he belongs, and he's made it abundantly clear whenever he's been given solid minutes off the bench this season.
Celtics continue to beat themselves
The Celtics were on the verge of putting this game away until a bevy of silly mistakes in the game's final minutes cost them. Philadelphia went on an 18-6 run that was the result of brutal Boston turnovers and questionable decision-making.
It all culminated in Marcus Smart's head-scratcher of an inbound pass that was intercepted by Embiid with 2.9 seconds remaining. At that point, the Celtics just needed a 3 to tie the game at 106. Smart had time to set up a play rather than show off his arm like Hunter Renfroe gunning out a runner at home plate, but Embiid came up with the steal and was able to hit his next two free throws and put the game out of reach.
The Celtics also turned the ball over 18 times in the defeat with six of those turnovers coming from Tatum. Boston has only one win all season when he has more than three turnovers, per Dan Greenberg of Barstool Sports.