The Sixers lost a defense-dominated scrap Wednesday night to the Celtics, in large part due to a woeful shooting night from Joel Embiid.
They fell to Boston at TD Garden, 88-87, dropping to 11-11 on the season. Embiid had 13 points on 3-for-17 shooting, 18 rebounds and six assists.
The Sixers had a chance to win on their final possession but couldn’t generate a good shot. Tobias Harris (eight points, six rebounds) was guarded tightly by Al Horford on the perimeter. He passed to Georges Niang, who was blocked in the corner by Robert Williams III at the buzzer.
Jayson Tatum scored a game-high 26 points and grabbed 16 rebounds.
The Sixers will play the second game of their four-game road trip on Friday against the Hawks. Here are observations on their loss to Boston.
Embiid’s shooting woes against Horford
Horford (10 points, eight rebounds, five blocks) drained his first three shots early in the game, making a three-pointer and two hooks to give the Celtics an 11-4 lead.
A Tatum pull-up jumper further stretched that edge and led Sixers head coach Doc Rivers to call a timeout. Boston converted 6 of its first 7 field goals and the Sixers opened 1 for 10.
Wednesday night was the first Horford-Embiid matchup since the 35-year-old’s one season in Philadelphia. There’s no point dissecting all that went wrong in the 2019-20 campaign for the Sixers, but we will say this game was another reminder that Horford isn’t a dreadful basketball player. It’s obvious both he and the Sixers are best off with the five-time All-Star in another uniform.
The Sixers only managed 20 points in the first quarter. Shake Milton scored 12 of them, cutting the Sixers’ deficit to one with a solo 8-0 run to close the period, while Embiid began 0 for 7 from the floor the game after a 4-for-16 performance against the Magic.
Harris was in the same boat as Embiid, missing jumpers aplenty and 5 of his first 6 field goals overall. He eschewed those shots in the third quarter and favored drives into the paint, which yielded a bit more luck.
Rivers did not substitute Embiid into the game in the fourth quarter until 5:42 remained, leaving Andre Drummond in for an extended stint.
Maxey still struggling
Local kid Niang scored eight points in the second period and also held up fine defensively on former Sixers guard Josh Richardson. The Sixers scored 20 of the game’s first 23 bench points.
Tyrese Maxey played with the Sixers’ bench a decent amount in Boston, essentially replacing Furkan Korkmaz on the second unit after only scoreless six minutes from the Turkish wing. Korkmaz's value to the team tends to be low when he's not making shots, and Rivers' apparent preference was trying to put Maxey in situations conducive to his success.
Maxey started 1 for 8 and ended the night with six points on 3-for-13 shooting, six rebounds, one assist and no turnovers. Over his past five games, Maxey has made 29.9 percent of his field goals.
He lacked decisiveness and aggression at times, rarely considering three-pointers. There were several opportunities to take open long-range jumpers, including on a second-quarter play when Williams sagged well off the 21-year-old and a third-quarter sequence when Maxey fumbled a pass and then dished to a well-guarded Seth Curry.
While Maxey was due for a shooting drop-off after a terrific start this season, the approach is a greater issue than the percentages. Though this slump predates Embiid’s return from COVID-19, it’s clear the Sixers need Maxey to figure out how to be better next to stars. Of course, that was always going to be a challenge for a second-year guard and first-time NBA starter. Maxey’s not short on talent or moxie and we assume he’ll have a bounce-back game soon enough.
Defense (and net weirdness) rules night
After a first half in which the teams combined for just 84 points, the third quarter was stalled by a rip in one of the nets.
More repairs were required late in the third. Those delays didn’t help the entertainment value of a game already low on rhythm and flow. Shots didn’t magically start dropping either.
The offensive execution wasn’t pretty throughout the evening, although both teams deserve credit for good defensive effort. Embiid broke up lobs intended for Williams and protected the rim effectively in a three-block, two-steal game. Danny Green and Matisse Thybulle were diligent about chasing Tatum around screens and not conceding any easy looks. The Sixers sent intelligent double teams on Jaylen Brown versus Curry post-ups.
Horford was stellar on Embiid, even if many of the four-time All-Star’s misses were shots he’d hit at his best. Still, it wasn’t entirely irrational for the Sixers to like the idea of signing Horford two-plus years ago in part because it meant he’d no longer be an Embiid opponent.
Under former Sixers assistant and current Celtics head coach Ime Udoka, it also appeared that Boston sent harder double teams at Embiid than last season.
Embiid averaged 38.3 points during the Sixers’ regular-season series sweep of the Celtics in 2020-21, so the adjustment was logical. Boston mixed things up well, too, sometimes using single coverage or having a defender besides Horford front Embiid.
Just as he did against Orlando, Curry (17 points, six assists) bailed the Sixers out a few times with important, contested shots. Tatum filled the same role for Boston and Dennis Schröder also made a big bucket, blowing by Maxey for a layup that gave the Celtics an 88-84 lead with 37.1 seconds to go.