Entering Friday’s game against Boston down 2-0, the 76ers faced a desperate situation if they had any hopes of getting back into the series.
They’re now in a 3-0 hole after a 102-94 loss to the Celtics.
Here are some observations from Game 3.
Showing effort: The Sixers’ effort was questioned in Game 2, but couldn’t be in Game 3. They had trouble making open shots, but fought all game. Boston deserves just as much credit on a night when its star had an off-game, the Celtics found a way.
Horford returns to starting lineup: Al Horford started Game 1, yielded to Matisse Thybulle in Game 2 and was back in the Sixers’ starting lineup on Friday. Horford was guarding Jaylen Brown, who scored the Celtics’ first seven points, including this dunk on a backdoor.
As you can see, on that play, Horford simply lost Brown, who scored on the easy dunk. After a rough start, Horford improved defensively, but he still remained an afterthought in the Sixers offense for much of the game.
Horford fouled Brown on a three-point attempt late in the fourth quarter, and Brown made him pay with three made free throws.
Harris more aggressive: Tobias Harris was much more aggressive offensively. He still wasn’t on with his shot (6 for 19) but he continually put pressure on Boston’s defense and opened up some free room for Embiid. In addition, Harris was killing it on the offensive and defensive glass.
Saved early by the boards: The Sixers shot 6 for 25 including 1 for 9 from three-point territory but only trailed 26-24 after the first quarter. Down by as many as nine in the opening quarter the Sixers stayed in the game on the boards led by Joel Embiid, who outrebounded Boston, 4-3 on the offensive glass in the first quarter.
Due mainly to his work on the boards, Embiid attempted nine first quarter free throws, four more than the entire Celtics team. The Sixers trailed 51-49 at half and Embiid was keeping them in the game with 22 points and 10 rebounds.
Ball movement: Brett Brown talked about needing ball movement because the Sixers were static offensively the first two games. Ball movement was better, but shot making in the early part of the game wasn’t so good.
Terrible first half for Tatum: Jayson Tatum averaged 32.5 points in the first two games, but he picked up his third foul late in the first quarter and didn’t play the entire second period. Tatum picked up his third foul with 35.6 seconds left in the first quarter. Celtics coach Brad Stevens has made so many good moves in the series, but having Tatum in the game that late in the first quarter with two fouls, was a critical mistake.
Tatum had five first half points and the Celtics were up by two. Due to poor shooting, the Sixers couldn’t take more advantage of his absence.
Richardson’s D. One reason that Tatum struggled was Josh Richardson played strong defense. Tatum can get his shot off against anyone, but Richardson was making it difficult for him to get much space. In the first two games Tatum was killing the Sixers off the dribble and pick and roll, but Richardson was staying with him and it looked like Tatum was frustrated. Through three quarters Tatum had just nine points and had shot 4 for 14.
Richardson, as you can see, hit some timely baskets:
Tatum late: Tatum got it going in the fourth quarter, hitting a three and later a driving layup to increase the Celtics lead to 7. In both instances, Richardson wasn’t on the floor.
Defensive/offensive play of the game: Marcus Smart is known for his defense and he made a great steal on this play.
Smart then got the assist with the behind the back pass to Brown who threw it down.
Critical play: Kemba Walker drew Embiid’s fourth foul on a driving layup with 7:34 left in the third quarter. Walker made the free throw to give the Celtics a 63-56. Embiid had to go to the bench but the Sixers stayed in the game. The Sixers kept fighting and trailed 76-72 to begin the fourth quarter when Embiid returned.
Word of advice: When Kemba Walker has Furkan Korkma on him and is taking it to the Sixers have to provide help defense. Walker is one of the quickest players in the NBA and no match for Korkmaz.
Burks in the fourth: Alec Burks had just five points and was 2 for 9 entering the fourth quarter, but he scored four early points in the fourth quarter giving the Sixers a needed spark. Burks can get his shot on any defender. After that early flurry he wasn’t heard from.
Fourth quarter zone: The Celtics were getting beaten off the dribble so they went zone for a few possessions in the fourth quarter and threw the Sixers off their rhythm.
Killer shot by Walker: The Celtics increased their lead to 98-94 when Walker hit this step-back jumper with Horford on him.
This showed that one-on-one the Sixers have nobody who can handle Walker off the dribble and give him credit for exploiting the switch with Horford guarding him.