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Three takeaways from Celtics’ dominant Game 2 win over 76ers

Philadelphia won Game 1 with the league MVP in street clothes.

Boston dominated Game 2 despite its best player — the guy fourth in the MVP voting this season — barely making an impact.

Welcome to the NBA Playoffs, where little makes sense but we know the Celtics have evened their series with the 76ers after a 121-87 blowout win. Here are three takeaways from Game 2.

1) Celtics remind everyone what a force they are when focused, defending

“They pressured us, they denied us, they played in our air space all game,” was how Doc Rivers described the Celtics’ defense (while adding his team needs to move the ball more).

The Celtics had the second-best defense in the NBA this season, but they haven’t brought that to the arena every night during the playoffs. They did on Wednesday night, holding the 76ers to less than a point per possession (92.6 offensive rating for the competitive portion of the game, via Cleaning the Glass).

Doc Rivers credited Jaylen Brown for setting the tone, being physical and leading a defense that often picked up James Harden and other 76ers ball handlers before halfcourt. Marcus Smart was a big part of that as well. The energy and defense threw the 76ers off, and they shot just 39.2% for the game, including 6-of-20 from 3.

That defense was a sign the Celtics were focused — something they were not in two of the last three games (Game 5 vs. Atlanta and Game 1 of this series). Boston’s focus and game plan discipline have been an issue going back to last season.

“I think we just gotta take more pride in ourselves,” Brown said postgame. “I felt like we underperformed last game and we wanted to come out and play to the best of our ability.”

2) Jaylen Brown sparks the offense — and gets plenty of help

If you had told me before the game Jayson Tatum had seven points on 1-of-7 shooting, I’d have wondered if there was any way for the Celtics to come back from being 0-2 down.

Instead, Boston showed off its depth of scoring options, knocking down 21 3-pointers on 51 attempts (39.2%). Boston won scoring behind the arc in this game by 42 and (unlike the Lakers) the 76ers couldn’t make up that ground. Even Grant Williams — who spends an inexplicable amount of time in Joe Mazzulla’s dog house — got into the act and scored a dozen.

It all started with Jaylen Brown, who had 25 in the game.

Malcolm Brogdon can have serious tunnel vision when he plays, but when he is scoring like this — 23 points, 6-of-10 from 3 — it works.

Marcus Smart finished the game with 15 points but that undersells his contributions. In the first half he was critical for the Celtics hitting both timely 3s but also backing down De’Anthony Melton for post buckets, and playing DPOY on-ball defense.

3) Joel Embiid looked good for the first half, faded later

Joel Embiid said he felt “pretty good” physically after the game. And there were stretches where he played pretty well, particularly on defense.

Despite clearly being bothered by the brace, Embiid made his presence felt on defense early on with five first-half blocks.

However, he faded as the game went along and his being slowed was part of the third-quarter run by the Celtics that ended the game. In the second half other Sixers players had to cover for him, which led to Boston getting too many clean looks.

The struggles of the 76ers’ offense added to the team’s problems because it let Boston get out in transition.

Doc Rivers has some adjustments to make before Game 3, but for the 76ers it will have to start with matching Boston’s intensity (if the Celtics’ bring that intensity again).