KISSIMMEE, Fla. — Are the 76ers built for the playoffs? Or are they built to get swept in the playoffs?
We’ll find out 1 p.m. Sunday in Game 4 of their opening-round playoff series against the Boston Celtics. Boston took a commanding 3-0 advantage with a 102-94 Game 3 victory Friday night.
“I don’t want to be swept,” Joel Embiid said. “I don’t want that in the resume. Like I said, I’ve been playing my butt off.
“I’m going to come in and do everything that I can to make sure we win a game. Pick one game at a time.”
No NBA team has ever come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series. Only three series have gone to a seventh game after one team opened with a 3-0 lead. Following Friday’s game, coach Brett Brown took his frustration on a chair while walking to the locker room.
“The historical reference to the daunting task at hand, we all get it,” Brown said. “My mind is truly on trying to find a win. I believe sincerely that wins sometimes change everything.”
One would assume the Sixers are basically playing for pride at this point.
“I’m not rolling over,” Brown said.
The coach does understand, however, the perception that is this series is over.
“I’m not trying to be Knute Rockne,” he said. “My sincere opinion is we are going to come in and play the game and get a win. To dust it off like it’s delivered for pride purposes, of course.
“But it’s to keep a series alive.”
The Sixers had a chance Friday to make this a series, but they crumpled down the stretch.
Embiid hit a pair of foul shots to give them a 94-92 lead with 2 minutes, 14 seconds remaining. But he turned the ball over on the Sixers’ next possession, which led to a Jalen Brown layup to knot the score. The three-time All-Star center then had an 18-foot jumper blocked by Jayson Tatum on the possession after that.
The Celtics ended up scoring 10 unanswered points, while the Sixers missed their final four shots.
Philly made just 29.5% of its shots, including making 9 of 39 three-pointers (23.1%).
Embiid finished with a game high of 30 points to go with 13 rebounds. However, he scored only eight points on 1-for-9 shooting in the second half.
Tobias Harris added 15 points to go with a game-high 15 rebounds. Like Embiid, Harris struggled after intermission, scoring four points on 1-for-7 shooting.
Tatum had his worst game of the series, finishing with 15 points on 6-for-19 shooting.
Teammates Kemba Walker (24 points) and Brown (20) took up the slack to put the Sixers on the brink of elimination.
“Frustration, upset, disappointment,” Harris said. “Everything you can imagine in losing a playoff game for sure.”
But the Sixers kept telling us they were built for the playoffs.
Even when they underachieved and had chemistry problems, the Sixers reminded us that it was just the regular season. Players, Brown, and general manager Elton Brand had one message: “We are built for the playoffs.”
They repeated that even with their best defender, two-time All-Star Ben Simmons (left knee surgery), out of the playoffs. Now, they’re trying not to get swept.
Brown went in thinking this would be a bounce-back game.
The New England native noted that his team understood the Sixers-Celtics rivalry and the playoff history.
Friday marked the 109th playoff meeting between the longtime Atlantic Division rivals. The Celtics hold a 61-47 advantage. Boston has also won 13 of 21 playoff series against the Sixers.
The Sixers went back to their original playoff starting lineup of Harris, Al Horford, Embiid, Josh Richardson, and Shake Milton.
In Game 2, Matisse Thybulle replaced Horford in the lineup as a way to counter the Celtics having guard Marcus Smart start in place of injured forward Gordon Hayward (right ankle sprain).
But Brown opted to go back to Horford. One could argue that Thybulle should have replaced him down the stretch. The Celtics took advantage of the big man during their game-ending 10-0 run.
“Really like when you go through what the alternatives are, I feel like that’s the one I’m going to do,” Brown said of starting Horford.
Harris was hot at the start, forming a great one-two tandem with Embiid.
Embiid had 12 points and seven rebounds in the first quarter. Harris added nine points, four rebounds, one block, and one steal.
Tatum finally looked human. The All-Star forward had five points on 2-for-7 shooting and three fouls in 8 minutes, 16 seconds.
The Celtics clung to a 26-24 cushion after one quarter thanks to the Sixers’ poor shooting.
Embiid (2-for-5) and Harris (4-for-8) combined to go 6-for-13, but their teammates combined to go 0-for-12.
With his three fouls, Tatum didn’t play in the second quarter. That didn’t affect the Celtics, though. They went into the half up, 51-49.
Harris cooled off in the second quarter, scoring two points on 1-for-4 shooting. But Embiid had 10 points on 4-for-6 shooting to get to 22 points and 10 rebounds, securing his third double-double in as many series games.
Embiid gave the Sixers a 56-55 lead with 8:50 left in the third on a pair of foul shots. But Walker responded with a jumper, a three-pointer, and a three-point play in a personal 8-0 run to make it a 63-56. The Sixers responded with 7-0 run before Walker’s 4-footer.
Philly went on to trail by four points (76-72) heading into the fourth quarter. They had to feel fortunate because Embiid missed the final 7:34 of that quarter after picking up his fourth foul.
He returned at the start of the final quarter. Embiid gave the Sixers a 94-92 lead with a pair of foul shots with 2:14 left.