KISSIMMEE, Fla. — The 76ers find themselves in a two-game hole.
The Boston Celtics rolled to a 128-101 victory Wednesday in Game 2 of the opening-round playoff series at The Field House. The win gives Boston a commanding 2-0 advantage in the best-of-seven series. Game 3 is 6:30 p.m. Friday.
The Sixers accomplished their goal of getting Joel Embiid more shots. The three-time All-Star finished with 34 points on 11-for-21 shooting to go with 10 rebounds in 34 minutes, 20 seconds. He exited the game for good with 6:31 remaining and his team down 22. Embiid only had 15 shot attempts in Monday’s Game 1 loss.
But getting him the ball was perhaps the only improvement from Game 1.
Tobias Harris (13 points on 4-for-15 shooting) and reserve Alec Burks (two points on 1-for-8 shooting) both struggled.
Meanwhile, Jayson Tatum put on a clinic for the second consecutive game. The Celtics’ All-Star forward finished with 33 points while making 8 of 12 three-pointers. The 22-year-old is averaging 32.5 points in the series.
“He’s a superstar,” Kemba Walker said. “He’s been showing it night-in and night-out. He just makes the right reads. He’s a special talent, as well as Jaylen [Brown].
“Those two guys are phenomenal basketball players.”
Brown had 20 points two nights after scoring 29, and Walker added 22 points.
The Celtics made 19 of 43 three-pointers, while the Sixers hit just 5 of 21.
The Sixers have a lot of soul searching to do if they want to avoid being swept.
On Wednesday, they lacked intensity after the first quarter. Perhaps that had a lot to do with realizing they just weren’t good enough to beat the Celtics.
They don’t have enough shooters, they have mismatched pieces, and they are predictable.
So where do they go from here?
“You make sure you hold the spirit of the locker room,” coach Brett Brown said. “You make sure the group understands there’s enough character, and there’s enough talent in the room to regroup.”
Under normal circumstances, the Sixers would play Games 3 and 4 at the Wells Fargo Center, where they were 29-2. But instead inside the bubble, they won’t get a lift from their home crowd.
“The message is some level of belief,” Brown said. “What I said I mean. I think there is enough character, and there’s enough talent in the room to respond.”
But, it appeared that they stopped giving effort in the second quarter. Brown admitted that the effort “got deflating” when Walker and Tatum went “bananas.” He also said on a few second-half possessions the effort wasn’t where it needed to be. Brown, however, didn’t want to criticize his players’ effort.
“Tatum is a handful,” he said. “Kemba got it going. Jaylen I thought had a great game. And they made shots. And I thought we had a hard time dealing with them.”
Matisse Thybulle did get his first playoff start.
The rookie replaced Al Horford in the starting lineup as a way to counter the Celtics having guard Marcus Smart start in place of injured forward Gordon Hayward (Grade III right ankle sprain).
The 6-foot-3 Smart joined Walker (6-0), Brown (6-6), Tatum (6-8), and Daniel Theis (6-8) in what was an already small but athletic starting lineup for the Celtics.
So Brown decided not to go with his towering frontcourt of Harris (6-9), Embiid (7-2), and Horford (6-10). Thybulle (6-5) got the start on the wing, and they moved Harris to power forward. Horford was the sixth man. Meanwhile, Raul Neto was the second man off the bench despite not playing in Game 1.
Thybulle didn’t make the same defensive impact against Tatum that he did Monday night. In Game 1, Tatum only scored four points on 2-for-9 shooting, including 0-for-1 from three-point land, while being guarded by the rookie.
But in Game 2, he scored the first basket against Thybulle, a 24-foot corner three-pointer, 19 seconds into play.
Tatum went on to score 11 points in the first quarter on 4-for-5 shooting, including making all three of his three-pointers. But the Sixers went into the second quarter up 33-27 after holding a 14-point cushion at one point.
Embiid was a major reason for the leading after the first quarter. The big man took advantage of getting more shot attempts, finishing with 15 first-quarter points on 6-for-9 shooting. The Sixers also shot 60.9% in the quarter.
But everything changed in the second quarter.
The Sixers couldn’t buy a basket, nor could they stop Tatum and Walker. At that point, Philly lacked effort.
The Celtics kept scoring like it was practice. As Embiid sat in the paint, Boston would send the man he guarded to set a screen. That enabled Tatum and Walker to punish them with open pull-up jumpers.
As a result, Walker scored 13 of his points on 5-for-7 shooting, while Tatum had seven.
“It’s different,” Walker said of how the Sixers defended him. “I really haven’t seen that much space in a very long time.”
Meanwhile, the Sixers were shooting 15.4% at one point in the quarter before eventually making 8 of 21 shots for 38.1%.
However, it was a bad quarter and half for Harris, who had three points on 1-for-5 shooting en route seven points on 3-for-9 in the half.
Taking advantage, the Celtics held an eight-point lead, 65-57, at the half. Boston went on lead by as many as 25 points (100-75) early in the fourth quarter.
Now, the Sixers must win four of five to advance to the second round.
“We just got to focus on some positives,” Embiid said. “Take one game at a time, one win at a time, and we can do it.