Marcus Smart

Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

Sixers shatter any notions of the Celtics having some sort of bizarre spell over them with win

For the first two quarters and 54 seconds of the Sixers’ game against the Celtics on Wednesday night, logic and reason apparently left the Wells Fargo Center. 

Just about everything Terry Rozier put up went in; Brett Brown got a technical foul in the second quarter for arguing a dubious foul call on Joel Embiid; outside of Embiid and Ben Simmons, the Sixers shot 9 for 36 in the first half. The Sixers, on paper, had the more talented team, but the Celtics were going to sweep the season series.

Then, less than a minute into the third quarter, with Boston leading, 69-58, the bizarre fog broke. Marcus Smart took objection to a screen by Embiid, got up from the floor, and shoved Embiid in the back. He got a Flagrant 2 foul and was ejected. As he exited down the tunnel, Smart asked for louder boos from a crowd incredulous that someone had just taken a cheap shot at their superstar but, more than anything, angry.

It would be a stretch to say everything made sense after Smart’s ejection. But, from that point, the notion of the Celtics being in the Sixers’ heads or having some sort of mystical hold over them dissolved. The Sixers beat the Celtics, 118-115 (see observations), their sixth straight win and the team's first vs. Boston since Game 4 of their second-round series last year against the Celtics, on May 7 — the T.J. McConnell Game. 

Though his teammates generally stayed away from the topic of Smart’s ejection, Embiid — who received a technical foul on the play — said it motivated him.

“For sure,” he said. “Stuff like that, it gets me going, it gets the crowd going and everybody knows that I play better when the crowd is involved. That energy was definitely good for us.”

Tobias Harris could sense, in just his second game as a Sixer vs. the Celtics, how much it meant to overcome Boston.

“You could feel it in the arena from the fans once the game was over,” Harris said. “And throughout the game, you could feel the passion from the fans of how much they wanted the win, how much we wanted to win. Any time you’re faced against another really good team and a team that’s kind of had their number for some time now, it’s always going to be an intense environment and intense game all around.”

There are tangible, basketball reasons the Sixers overcame a deficit as large as 15 points in the second period. Embiid was incredible, scoring 37 points, pulling down a career-high 22 rebounds, and getting to the foul line 21 times, missing only once. Jimmy Butler (22 points) made clutch shots in isolation and pick-and-rolls situations in the fourth quarter. The Sixers’ defensive communication was much improved in the second half.

But beating Boston was always going to be about more than following schemes and executing game plans. 

“I think that the spirit of the group, the tenacity of that team, where they didn’t waver in belief, was as much of an important factor to me as when I look down and say, ‘Oh, by the way, we won,’” Brown said.

But yes, the Sixers did win Wednesday, and Butler admitted the obvious — it was more important than an ordinary victory.

“Hell yeah,” he said. “I haven't beat these guys yet while I've been here. Jo was so excited to be able to compete against these guys tonight saying how much this game meant to him. But like I said earlier, in order to consider yourself a really good team you got to beat those really good teams. I got a really good feeling we'll probably see those guys some time down the road.”

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Marcus Smart ejected after shoving Joel Embiid as Sixers-Celtics showdown gets heated

Marcus Smart ejected after shoving Joel Embiid as Sixers-Celtics showdown gets heated

Marcus Smart did not endear himself to Sixers fans Wednesday night.

The Celtics’ guard was ejected for a Flagrant 2 foul with 11:06 left in the third quarter. Smart wasn’t a fan of a Joel Embiid screen that caused him to fall to the ground. After rising to his feet, Smart took a cheap shot at Embiid, shoving him to the floor.

Embiid had to be restrained by his teammates. Tobias Harris was first to jump in front of the big man and prevent a potential physical confrontation with Smart. Embiid received a technical foul on the play, which you can watch in the video above.

As he left the floor, Smart egged on the rabid crowd at Wells Fargo Center, encouraging them to increase the volume of boos. Smart, who posted three points and four assists in his 19 minutes, waved goodbye as he went down the tunnel. Semi Ojeleye later stepped into the Celtics’ rotation in Smart’s place.

The Sixers went on an 8-1 run immediately following the ejection, with all eight points scored by Embiid. He scored 15 points in the third quarter.

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Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

Movement of 2014 picks highlights how well Sixers did in that draft

Despite it taking place over four years ago, the 2014 NBA draft continues to look better by the day for the Sixers.

Of course, that’s the draft in which the Sixers selected Joel Embiid at No. 3 and dealt the No. 10 choice (Elfrid Payton) to the Orlando Magic for the rights to Dario Saric at No. 12 along with a pair of draft picks.

Even recapping that first-round haul for the Sixers should bring a grin across your face.

That’s mainly because of what is transpiring with the careers of the other players from that draft class.

The latest move was the No. 2 overall pick that night, Jabari Parker, being allowed by the Milwaukee Bucks to sign an offer sheet to join his hometown Chicago Bulls earlier this week.

Now think back to 2014. Remember when people were hoping and praying the Sixers would be able to move up a spot or two to snag Parker or eventual top pick Andrew Wiggins? Recall how some didn’t want to touch Embiid, who was coming off a back injury at Kansas and suffered a broken bone in his foot during the pre-draft process? Add on those that weren't supportive of grabbing the then-mysterious Saric (you know he's never coming over, right?).

It’s unlikely you’ll hear those individuals speak up now. Not with Embiid as the Sixers’ All-Star anchor in the middle and Saric serving as a rock-solid forward next to him.

And they’ll be even quieter once you factor in the statuses of those other 2014 selections.

Look at Wiggins. Yes, he’s found a home in Minnesota and even signed a $146 million extension prior to last season. However, his inconsistency has been maddening at times and even forced Timberwolves owner Glen Taylor to recently say he’s not ready to give up on the 23-year-old swingman.

When it comes to Parker, the Bucks let him walk for a reason. The combo forward suffered two torn ACLs in his four-year stint in Milwaukee. And while he was a solid contributor when on the floor, it was clear the Bucks now run through budding star Giannis Antetokounmpo.

Even after that trio at the top, things aren’t exactly booming career-wise for the players that followed in the draft. 

Aaron Gordon, the No. 4 overall pick, inked an $80 million deal this summer to remain in Orlando for the next four seasons. However, the team has a 114-214 record since Gordon was drafted.

The Jazz committed $33 million over three years to guard Dante Exum earlier this offseason. But realistically, the team had so much confidence in the oft-injured fifth pick in ’14 that it drafted Donovan Mitchell and acquired Ricky Rubio from the Timberwolves just a year ago.

There are plenty of solid players after the top five from the 2014 draft, but none of them are the caliber of Embiid and few measure up to Saric.

Things really get hairy when you take a look at the middle of the lottery. Former Sixer Nik Stauskas, who was taken eighth, is now on his fourth NBA team. Noah Vonleh was picked ninth and is now playing for his third franchise. Payton was the Sixers’ pick at No. 10 before being shipped to Orlando. He signed to join the New Orleans Pelicans in free agency earlier this month, which marks his third team in four years. And the 11th name called that night, Doug McDermott, will suit up for his fifth NBA team when next season rolls around.

In all, only 10 of the 30 players taken in the first round in 2014 are with the original team they suited up for on opening night (that includes Marcus Smart and Clint Capela, who remain on the market as restricted free agents).

Two of them are Embiid and Saric, who are still helping the Sixers climb from the cellar just a few years ago to the top of the NBA food chain.

Not a bad draft haul at all and it looks even better now.

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