Even Daniel Theis’ best game of the season wasn’t enough to slow down Joel Embiid, as the Boston Celtics fell to the Philadelphia 76ers 117-109 on Wednesday night in Philly.
In the first game of their two-game mini-series, Joel Embiid did whatever he wanted all night long against the Boston Celtics overmatched centers. He finished with 42 points and 10 rebounds on an incredibly efficient 12-19 shooting. In what has been a trend the last few years, Embiid completely dominated this game from start to finish. These are the matchups that Tristan Thompson was brought in for, and this game was not a promising start. Whenever the 76ers needed a bucket, they fed it to their All-NBA center down in the post and let him go to work.
However, there were positives from this game. With Jayson Tatum still out due to his positive COVID-19 test, Jaylen Brown continues to show that he is capable of being the team’s leading scorer. He put up 26 points, and could easily have been looking at a 30+ point game if he had converted more than three of his ten 3-point attempts. Moves like this simply were not in Jaylen’s bag last year, showing just how much he’s developed since the end of last season.
Marcus Smart also had a good game, finishing with 25 points on 10-19 shooting. However, he also could have scored more if he converted more 3-pointers instead of going 1-6. Daniel Theis had his best game of the young season, scoring 23 points on 10-11 shooting, constantly capitalizing on easy opportunities set up by the C’s point guards.
However, the best news of this game was that Kemba Walker looks like he’s BACK.
He looked quick, decisive, and most of all, he looked totally in control. Other than one pass that he threw way too hard for Javonte Green to corral, he controlled the floor when he was out there. In just his second game back, he scored 19 points, mostly on 5-9 on 3-pointers. It will be interesting to see how he meshes with Jayson Tatum, who has been the primary ballhandler for most of the year so far, when he returns, but for now Kemba looks great, which is a huge boost to this team’s chances in the East.
The Celtics had a 3-point halftime lead and a 6-point lead going into the fourth, but were unable to hold on to win. Their inability to guard without fouling is really what ended up costing them this game. Philadelphia had a parade to the free-throw line in the fourth quarter, shooting a ridiculous 17 free-throws in the last 12 minutes. The 15 points they scored there were only 2 less than the Celtics managed to score for the whole quarter. For the whole game, Joel Embiid got 21 shots from the line, while Boston shot 20 as a team. When the Celtics biggest center was Daniel Theis last season, this was a huge issue. Boston-Philly matchups consistently swung on Embiid and the rest of his teammates getting to the free-throw line with ease. However, with Tristan Thompson in the fold this season, this matchup was supposed to be harder for Embiid. But instead, this first matchup was a continuation of the trends of the past few seasons. Going forward, Boston will have to figure out a way to slow down the Philly big man, as he has always found a way to punish both smaller Boston defenders and their big men alike.
Luckily, the Celtics have a chance for instant payback, as their next game is Friday against these same 76ers. This may be the game that Jayson Tatum finally returns from his stay on the COVID list, which would give us our first chance to see the Celtics fully healthy this season, almost a quarter of the way into the year.