Sixers Take Care of Business Against Celtics 106-96, Sweep Season Series.
After a painful loss to the Grizzlies at home with Joel Embiid resting for his sensitive knee, the Sixers headed East to finish out their regular season series against their bitter rival Boston Celtics. With Embiid back in the lineup, the Sixers handled the C’s with ease while getting back to their strengths they’d put on full display before the All-Star Break.
The Sixers came into the matchup only missing new acquisition George Hill, who did traveled with the team and got shots up, but doesn’t have a return date set. The Celtics were without center Tristan Thompson who has been the main matchup against Joel Embiid in the past. His absence spelled trouble for the the Celtics early and often. Robert Williams started in place of Thompson, and got two quick fouls in the first that took him out early. That forced Mo Wagner and Luke Kornet to try and contain Embiid, which did not go well at all. In fact, the first possession down the court against Kornet, Embiid backed down and dunked over Kornet.
Embiid showed exactly why he was the front-runner for MVP halfway through the season tonight. The big man notched 35 points to lead all scorers, but his biggest contribution came from the stripe. Embiid is a matchup nightmare for anyone around the hoop, and routinely gets fouled down low.
Last night, Joel went to the line twenty times, converting on sixteen of those attempts. Not only are free throws free points, but by racking up ten fouls on opposing players opposing coaches are forced to sit certain players. Robert Williams would end up fouling out of this contest, and Jaylen Brown had his fair share of foul trouble picking up four by the third quarter. Having those two off the court in foul trouble not only allows Embiid to get easier buckets, but allows his teammates to prosper as well. This was a classic “I’m Having Fun” game from Embiid, who knocked down an open three, hit step-back Js over defenders, and routinely put on a clinic from the low blocks. His presence makes a monumental difference in this lineup, and any Sixers fans who forgot about that while he was out certainly remember now.
Throughout the year fans and critics have touched on how much Simmons can help shooters with his court vision and the attention he demands offensively, especially in transition. What many don’t talk about is how a combination of Embiid and Simmons creates even better spacing. With the starters, Doc routinely runs Embiid in the block, and Simmons in the dunker spot. Both demand major attention in the paint, which allows shooters to get open looks constantly. Tonight, the hot shooter was Danny Green, who’s quietly stepped up offensively after the All-Star Break. Tonight, Green nailed five threes on six attempts, scoring seventeen in the game. Green and Curry will continue to get good looks from the arc with a fully healthy roster, and if even one of them can produce, it spells trouble for opposing defenses.
Simmons has certainly struggled since his All-Star appearance, but tonight showed a step in the right direction. In the half court, Simmons still struggled in capitalizing on matchups, but showed flashes of brilliance behind his aggression. He went to the foul line four times, only hitting fifty percent of his free throws. He also landed a circus shot layup on an aggressive drive baseline. Defensively, Ben led the Sixers in steals with three, and clamped up Tatum routinely whenever the two matched up in the contest. Tonight Simmons showed signs of what earned him the All-Star bid earlier in the season, but he needs to stay consistent and convert from the foul line in future games to confidentially say he’s out of the slump.
The Sixers looked to be their dominant selves again with Embiid back in the roster. Even with a down game from Harris, the Sixers leaned on their star center and great defense to dominate the Celtics. Philly played to their strength well, something we haven’t seen from them since Embiid went down with the injury. We’ll see if they can string this sort of play together over their next few games. The Sixers hit the road to take on the Pelicans down in New Orleans next.
MANDATORY CREDIT: NBC Sports Philadelphia, Charles Kupra.