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The Sixers rode a scorching hot Patrick Beverley and battled Boston for all of 48 minutes, but the Celtics managed to escape with a 125-119 victory despite a third-quarter ejection for Jayson Tatum.
Here’s what I saw.
No “schedule loss” mentality
The second that Joel Embiid was ruled out, morale went through the floor. When Tyrese Maxey and Nic Batum got scratched closer to tip-off, it seemed like the only drama left would be guessing how much the Sixers would lose by.
Guess again — despite the Celtics shooting the hell out of the ball to open this game the Sixers responded with a heater of their own. Maybe it was the “nothing to lose” feeling allowing them to play fast and loose, maybe they were just fortunate to go on a heater, but the reason doesn’t really matter. They showed up in a big way and made Boston sweat for much longer than expected.
The real key for Philadelphia was, weirdly, on the defensive end. Yes, Boston shot the lights out to open this one, but the Sixers flashed active hands all over the floor, with everyone from Robert Covington to KJ Martin getting hands on balls to junk up Celtics possessions. The Sixers were able to make up for whatever they lacked in halfcourt creation by, well, minimizing their halfcourt possessions, running at breakneck speed whenever they forced a miss or a turnover.
Perhaps most surprisingly, the Sixers had superior composure throughout this one. Boston threatened to run away with this one in the third quarter, with Philadelphia running cold and the Celtics briefly looking like a team ready to kill off the game. And every time it got to around 6-8 points, the Sixers managed to come up with a play, be that a forced turnover, a made three, or a pair of free throws to settle things down. That perseverance paid off when Jayson Tatum lost his cool in the dying moments of the third quarter, earning his second technical foul and an ejection for jawing at the officials. And then…
A dreadful Tobias Harris half
I thought Harris got off to a relatively good start in this game, serving as a good pace-setter in transition and a safety valve if a possession went awry early in the shot clock. And then the buzzer sounded at halftime, with good Harris never to be seen again.
It is hard to overstate how bad he was when the Sixers needed him for the final 24 minutes of this game. You would be hard-pressed to name a single thing he did well, and I could name a bunch of individual possessions where he embarrassed himself without having to think twice. He was blocked at the rim twice on the same transition possession by Al Horford, and those weren’t the only fruitless transition attempts he made in the second half. Harris was caught between two minds on a crucial possession with under five minutes to play, stuck between a swing pass and continuing his dribble. He would eventually choose neither, getting called for a double dribble to give the ball back to Boston despite facing no pressure on the perimeter. He couldn’t even make a gimmie free throw to end the game, on a shot that meant absolutely nothing.
This is up there with the worst performances from his time in Philadelphia even with the decent first half. It is not an overstatement to say he actively sabotaged their chances to win. You could have put basically any non-Korkmaz player on the floor in his place and likely would have had a better outcome. And while his hot start to the year should not be ignored entirely, he has reminded everyone over the last week or two why many in the fanbase will never trust him in a high stakes playoff series. And I for one can’t blame anyone who feels that way.
(Yes, Korkmaz was just as bad. But he was the only one even close to Harris’ level of stinkiness.)
The Pat Bev (and Mo Bamba) game?
After repeatedly asking for Daryl Morey to go out and get a backup ballhandler, I can’t sit here and pretend and suggest I ever expected a performance like this out of Pat Bev. But after cooking the Lakers earlier this week, Beverley got to work early against Boston and never stopped rolling.
While his primary creation skills have lacked at times, one thing I have loved from Beverley this year is his patience on the perimeter. There are possessions where he loads up a three-point shot like a trebuchet only to scoot right past the defender the second they’ve committed to a closeout. He has managed to steal himself some quality looks inside the arc with that approach, and he got to his spots from midrange with that approach on Friday night. But I’m burying the lede a bit by ignoring the outside touch to start — Beverley was 2/2 from deep in the first half and even hit a ridiculous stepback three, nearly causing me to fall out of my chair.
The crazy part is, that wasn’t the last stepback three from Beverley. He hit one to knot up the score in the final four minutes on Friday night, pulling his total to 25 points shortly before getting fouled on a critical defensive rebound on the other end. He ran out of magic in the end, but this was a gutsy effort.
But at least Beverley had some recent success leading into this game. Mo Bamba’s third-quarter run came out of nowhere, with the backup big sinking a pair of threes in addition to a putback bucket, going on a personal scoring run in the third that allowed Philly to keep this one close. I don’t think it’ll do much to improve his chances of regular playing time, given that the two guys in front of him are clearly better. But it should earn him a chance for real minutes the next time they’re down a big.
Reed is a must-start without Embiid
Nick Nurse basically had no choice but to start Reed in this game, down three different starters and with Marcus Morris already stepping into someone else’s spot. But I thought this game showed why Reed has to be given the higher-minute role whenever Joel Embiid is absent, because it’s useful to have an actual big on the floor the vast majority of the time.
Having Reed in the game allowed his teammates to slide into more natural roles to open the game. Marcus Morris has had some ugly defensive moments in recent games, in part because he is not a center (or anything close to one) and has been put in no-win positions trying to protect the rim. With Reed manning the pivot, Morris ended up looking halfway credible on that end of the floor, though of course, his hot streak on offense finally came to an end as the other side of the ball caught up.
On his end of things, Reed had a good night on offense, scoring a couple of nice buckets against Al Horford in the post while showcasing some genuine versatility, hitting a spot-up three in the first quarter in addition to a dunk on a well-timed cut along the baseline. His gravity as a roller is the real deal, opening up space by sucking defenders toward him on his way to the basket.
Good Robert Covington game, and yet…
For 3.5 quarters, Covington was close to player of the game for Philadelphia, playing outstanding help defense and contributing more than his share on offense. He marched to the free-throw line seven times, scored 18 points, and was one of their only two-way performers of the game.
But his limitations as a creator showed up in a big moment, when Covington barrelled into Jrue Holiday for a turnover in the final two minutes. In most cases, he wouldn’t be put in that spot, but we’ve seen this movie against Boston before.
Halftime moment of the year?
Take it away, Kendrick Perkins:
While Perkins scared his colleagues on the ESPN desk, he got a gigantic laugh out of me. The dawg mentality was absolutely on display, in the studio and on the Garden floor.