Two time 76ers all-star center Joel Embiid is out with a torn ligament in left hand, but for one night at least, his team had an impressive effort in a 109-98 victory Thursday over the Boston Celtics.
Here are takeaways from the game.
Al Horford is the Sixers’ center until Embiid returns and he showed a versatile game. Besides hitting two threes, he also hurt the Celtics with his scoring inside while also blocking a few shots and altering others.
After scoring just five points in the first half, Sixers forward Tobias Harris had an aggressive mentality in the third quarter, taking it to the basket with authority. He scored on a few driving layups, along with some close-in post-ups. He also showed his versatility by hitting a three from 26 feet out.
The Sixers came out with a plan to exploit Boston’s biggest weakness, the defense of point guard Kemba Walker. The 6-foot Walker began the game guarding the Sixers’ 6-5 Josh Richardson, who was aggressive from the outset. Richardson had 11 points before the game was four minutes old. He was able to take Walker off the dribble, post him up or just catch and shoot off screens. After that early spree, the Celtics began compensating, helping Walker on defense, or going more to a zone. Richardson picked up his aggressiveness and scored some key baskets early in the fourth quarter, ironically with Walker on the bench.
Celtics guard Marcus Smart is the type of player you hate to go against but would love to have on your team. He came off the bench and gave the Celtics a big early-game spark. Besides being one of the top defensive players in the NBA, he is also an intelligent player. Late in the first quarter, he had Trey Burke guarding him and Smart scored on a three and then posted him up. That was a clear mismatch. Smart had 19 points through three quarters and finished with 24.
The Sixers don’t have anybody who can match the quickness of Walker when he wants to go to the basket. Richardson and Matisse Thybullle, another accomplished defender, couldn’t stay with him. So to combat his speed and quickness, the Sixers began trapping him, making Walker give up the ball. Mike Scott was especially adept at trapping. The Sixers momentarily slowed down Walker. After scoring 13 first-quarter points, he was held scoreless in the second quarter. The Sixers played him one-on one in the third quarter and he ended up scoring 10 points. He was held in check in the fourth quarter, a major reason why the Sixers pulled away.
In the first two Sixers wins over Boston, Ben Simmons spent the majority of the time guarding Boston’s Jayson Tatum. The third-year forward shot just 13 for 40 in those games. Once again he had trouble against the Sixers, with Simmons providing most of the defense. Tatum isn’t quick enough to take Simmons off the dribble and he often forced long shots. Simmons didn’t abandon his offensive responsibility and with Embiid out, he was effectively posting up more.
Norvel Pelle gave the Sixers a spark off the bench. While extremely raw offensively, he can score on lobs off pick-and-rolls. He also blocked two shots, altered some others and received a well-deserved ovation when leaving the game early in the fourth quarter.