Marcus Morris

Joel Embiid at center of chippy play as All-Star gets under Celtics' skin

Joel Embiid at center of chippy play as All-Star gets under Celtics' skin

It was only a matter of time.

The Sixers and Celtics had played three physical playoff games free of really any extra-curricular activities. This on the heels of the Sixers' series against the Heat when it felt like an altercation could break out on any given possession.

But in the Sixers' 103-92 Game 4 win over the Celtics Monday (see observations), which was another slow, ugly slugfest that featured 51 fouls, tensions finally boiled over.

And of course, Joel Embiid was involved. 

Late in the first half with the Sixers in the midst of an 8-0 run, Terry Rozier was called for an offensive foul. After the call was made, Embiid tried to take the ball away from Rozier, who pulled the ball away, stepped toward the Sixers' center and stared him down. 

To no surprise, Embiid wasn't going to shy away as he made a few more swipes at the ball before Rozier finally had enough and threw this forearm into Embiid's chest twice. The two were quickly separated and, following video review, each assigned a technical foul.

After Rozier took a physical swing, Embiid countered with a verbal jab of his own postgame.

"I was trying to get the ball to keep the game flowing cause I felt like we had an advantage and we were on a run," Embiid said. "[Rozier] kept the ball away from me and tried to punch me twice, but too bad he's so short that he couldn't get to my face. I didn't understand why it was a double technical cause I was just trying to get the ball and he was the one trying to swing."

Rozier, who tortured the Sixers in the first three games of the series, was bottled up in Game 4, finishing with 11 points (4 for 11 from the field) and two assists (see story)

"We lost the game," Rozier said when asked if he thought the Celtics lost their cool Monday. "Whether we lost our cool, we can use a million excuses. We lost the game, they played better than us, they played harder than us.”

Embiid wasn't done mixing it up with the Celtics after his altercation with Rozier either.

Late in the third quarter, Marcus Morris tried to take Embiid off the dribble but was stymied at the rim. Embiid stared Morris down before converting an offensive rebound into an uncontested dunk on the other end.

On Embiid's trip back down court, he began to trash talk Morris right in his face. 

As a response, Morris simply reminded Embiid of the series' scoreboard.

"Because it's reality," Morris said of why he made the gesture to Embiid. "It's hard because I know I wouldn't say a damn word down 3-1, but, hey, we all different."

No matter the series score, it won't have a bearing on Embiid's trash talk. And the longer the Sixers stay alive, the louder he'll likely get. 

What if the Celtics go back at the Sixers' All-Star and try to mix it up with him like Rozier did? Advantage Embiid.

"The way Jo handles himself on the floor is great. He feeds off their energy," Ben Simmons said. "For somebody to frustrate him and get under his skin, I think he's just gonna throw it down harder when he gets to the rim and go up stronger."

"I feel like those type of plays, it just boosts your energy and just takes your game to another level," Embiid said. "So I like getting into [that] type of stuff."

Sixers energized by lineup shake-up as team avoids sweep with Game 4 win

Sixers energized by lineup shake-up as team avoids sweep with Game 4 win

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The Sixers’ season is not over.

They avoided elimination in Game 4 with a 103-92 win over the Celtics to force a Game 5 Wednesday in Boston. The Celtics lead the series, 3-1. 

• Brett Brown hadn’t been changing up his lineup and rotations much … until Monday. He started guard T.J. McConnell and moved forward Robert Covington to the bench. McConnell earned increased playing time as a dependable floor leader while Covington has been up and down, fluctuating from three points to 22 and just one in Game 3. 

McConnell was ultra aggressive with 19 points, seven rebounds, five assists and no turnovers in 39 minutes. The crowd responded with a “T-J! T-J!” chant. Any question of McConnell’s role on a playoff team should be answered with this game (see story)

• The Sixers never hit the panic button going into Game 4. Multiple players maintained they would be alright as they took the approach of one quarter at a time. 

“We’re OK,” Joel Embiid said at practice Sunday. “We’re good. We know what we’ve got to do.” 

• About that anticipation of physicality — 7-foot Joel Embiid and 6-foot Terry Rozier had to be separated during the second quarter. They were issued double techs (see story), then both responded by draining threes. 

With 15 points and 13 rebounds, Embiid became the first player to post a double-double in at least six of his first seven postseason games (in the same season) since Chris Paul did it in 2008. 

• In an unexpected twist, Ben Simmons (7 for 8) shot better from the line than JJ Redick (0 for 2). Simmons looked eager with his offensive game. He made 6 of 15 field goal attempts and posted a double-double with 19 points and 13 boards.

• Jayson Tatum led the Celtics with 20 points and Marcus Morris contributed 17 off the bench. 

• The Celtics ran into foul trouble. Marcus Smart, Jaylen Brown and Morris were whistled for five each. Tatum picked up his third in the second quarter. 

• Jimmy Rollins rang the ceremonial pregame bell and sat with Dikembe Mutombo.

Ben Simmons finally looks like a rookie in Sixers' Game 2 collapse

Ben Simmons finally looks like a rookie in Sixers' Game 2 collapse

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BOSTON — For the first time in a while, Ben Simmons looked like a rookie.

The usually cool-under-pressure point guard scored one point Thursday in the Sixers’ 108-103 Game 2 loss to the Celtics (see observations). Simmons believes his performance had more to do with his own mindset than the Celtics’ strategy. 

“I think it was mainly what I did to myself,” Simmons said. “I think mentally, I was thinking too much, overthinking the plays and wasn’t just out there flowing and playing the way that I play, which is free.” 

Simmons failed to make a field goal for the first time in his short NBA career. He shot 0 for 4 and netted his single point at the line. Simmons added five rebounds and seven assists, but ran into turnover trouble again with five (12 in the series) (see highlights). Brett Brown went with T.J. McConnell for the first half of the fourth quarter. 

It was an uncharacteristic performance for the 21-year-old, who has risen to the occasion on the big stage. Simmons rarely is fazed by the moment, averaging close to 20, 10, 10 in the first round and posting one of his 12 regular-season triple-doubles last month against LeBron James. 

"I think it was self-inflicted from myself," Simmons said. 

Single games are different than series. The Celtics have hours upon hours to map out new ways to limit the Rookie of the Year candidate. They spent the previous two days diving into how they could slow Simmons down, deciding to roll out different defenders, including Al Horford, Marcus Morris and Marcus Smart. The Celtics also looked to lock down on his teammates to take away his open passes and force him to score. They will have until Saturday at 5 p.m. to anticipate the adjustments Simmons will make. 

“He’s a heck of a player and obviously he didn’t play as well tonight, but good players always respond,” Brad Stevens said. “We’re going to have to be even better in Game 3, but trying our best to keep him in front and — he’s really hard to guard with a smaller player because he’s so big and strong and shifty. We’re fortunate to have a bunch of bodies to be able to kind of rotate guys.”

The Sixers advanced from one hard-nosed opponent to another. They were battle-tested by the Heat and face a group of feisty defenders on the Celtics. 

Simmons said he was not impacted by Morris because the Heat played “on another level” of physicality in the first round. Brown, though, saw the Celtics cause problems with their toughness. 

“With Ben, I give him credit,” Brown said. “They do a good job defending him. There’s an element of physicality that I feel that they have applied to all of us and tonight Ben struggled, as we see. I do give Boston’s defense a lot of credit and respect.”

Simmons is a matter-of-fact kind of player. He spoke candidly about his struggles and is ready to move on, leaving his overthinking behind in Boston. 

"That’s the thing, I’m going to have bad games," Simmons said. "It happens. Obviously, it’s not the perfect timing, but we’re heading home now. We have two home games that we need to take care of and handle business. We have the team to do it and the coaching staff. Just got to go do it.”