It must be something about the Boston Celtics.
They have the 76ers’ number regardless on who’s on Philly’s roster. This time, the Celtics prevailed, 112-109, Tuesday night at the Wells Fargo Center.
Afterward, Sixers center Joel Embiid voiced his frustration. Following his news conference, the two-time All-Star center leaned into the microphone and said “the referees [bleeping] suck."
Yes, it was the type of night for Embiid, who probably felt he wasn’t getting the foul calls he deserved.
Perhaps, but Al Horford, once again, was a matchup problem for Embiid.
The Celtics center was 9-for-16 from the field, including going 3-for-5 on three-pointers en route to finishing with 23 points. He also had eight rebounds and four steals. Embiid, however, scored his 23 points on 9-for-22 shooting. He went 2 of 8 from long range. He did post his league-leading 47th double-double by also producing a game-high 14 rebounds to go with two blocks. Fifteen of Embiid’s points came in the fourth quarter.
“I was sleep-walking through three quarters,” he said. “That’s on me.”
The Sixers and Celtics both have identical 36-21 records after Tuesday night’s game. However, Boston is fourth in the Eastern Conference standings while the Sixers are fifth. That’s because the Celtics have the tiebreaker due to clinching the season series. The teams will play their fourth and final regular-season contest on March 20 at the Wells Fargo Center.
This marked the Sixers’ third game since acquiring Tobias Harris and reserves Boban Marjanovic, Mike Scott, Jonathon Simmons, and James Ennis before last Thursday’s NBA trade deadline.
The thought was that they would change the Sixers’ fortune against Boston.
But as of now, it doesn’t matter who the Sixers players are. They still can’t beat the Celtics. For the record, the Celtics have beaten Brett Brown’s Sixers in 10 of the last 12 meetings.
Philly lost to Boston in five games last season in the second round of the Eastern Conference playoffs. Then with Robert Covington and Dario Saric still on the roster, the Sixers suffered a season-opening setback to Boston. Those two players were replaced by Jimmy Butler once the teams squared off on Christmas. The Celtics still won.
Brown was asked, at some point, do you have to worry about the Sixers’ inability to beat Boston being in the team’s head?
“No,” he said. “Not even close. We’ve been with each other for a minute. I don’t even think like that at all. I’m excited to play these guys.”
This time, the Sixers wanted to cut down on their turnovers and the Celtics’ three-point attempts. On Christmas Day, Philly had 19 turnovers in the 121-114 overtime setback. Boston had 41 three-point attempts that game, making 14.
On this night, the Sixers committed 14 turnovers. The Celtics, meanwhile, attempted 29 three-pointers, making 13. They entered the game averaging 35.3.
The Sixers also had a tough time containing Gordon Hayward.
The Celtics reserve guard made a season-high six three-pointers in seven attempts to finish with a game-high 26 points. His sixth three-pointer gave Boston a 105-103 lead with 1 minute, 50 seconds left. Boston went up three points thanks to a Marcus Smart foul shot 23 seconds later.
The Sixers had a chance to knot the score after Butler was fouled while attempting a three-pointer with 1:13 to play. He was awarded three foul shots, but only made one of them. So the Sixers trailed by two.
The Celtics then went up by four points after a Smart dunk. But Butler had a three-point play with 16.1 seconds left to close the gap to one point (108-107).
Boston went back up by three after Horford made a pair of foul shots three seconds later. After a timeout, Embiid’s putback of a Harris missed three-pointer made it a 110-109 game with 2.4 seconds remaining..
But the Celtics went on to win after Tatum hit a pair of foul shots with 1.8 left.
Butler had 22 points to go with nine rebounds. Meanwhile, Harris struggled. He had 10 points on 4-for-14 shooting and missed all six of his three-point attempts.
However, the Sixers also used to game to evaluate some of their reserves.
“There’s sort of a quiet tournament going on with Furkan [Korkmaz] and Jonathon Simmons and James Ennis, which one of those wings will emerge,” Brown said. “There is an undercurrent that I don’t want to forget about Jonah Bolden.”
The coach knows he’ll need the rookie post player if he’s feels one of three wings’ performance isn’t built for garnering postseason minutes.
“Then I have the ability to have Tobias come back to a three and bring Jonah into a four,” Brown said. “So there is a flexibility that we will learn more about, and I have 20 whatever games to do that.”
Beginning Wednesday night at the New York Knicks, the Sixers will have 25 games to identify who’s playing in the postseason. The Sixers will shrink their 10-man rotation to nine at the start of the playoffs.
Jonathon Simmons, Korkmaz and Ennis all receive equal minutes during this “tournament.”
Jonathon Simmons (seven points, one steal) played 14:31 on Tuesday while Korkmaz (two points) was on the floor for 10:46 and Ennis didn’t play.
Brown was curious to see Jonathon Simmons stalk Celtics point guard Terry Rozier on defense. He was also curious to see him play the perimeter defense that he’s known for producing.
He picked up his second foul 4 minutes, 9 seconds into his first stint off the bench. He was subbed out by T.J. McConnell during the timeout following the foul.
But a lot of his rotations will depend on who is the best for the team they’re facing for the rest of the regular season.
“I feel as time unfolds and gets to that stage of the season in early April, I think I’m going to know," Brown said.