The Boston Celtics will attempt once again to wear down Philadelphia 76ers star Joel Embiid when the Eastern Conference clubs continue their best-of-seven, first-round playoff series with Game 2 on Wednesday at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex near Orlando.
The third-seeded Celtics prevailed 109-101 in the series opener, getting 32 points from Jayson Tatum and 29 from frontcourt partner Jaylen Brown.
Equally important, the Celtics rotated fresh bodies on Embiid, who scored 11 points in the game’s first 7:08, helping the 76ers take a 17-16 lead, but then just 15 more the rest of the way.
Embiid did not make a field goal over the final 11:36, with his last hoop — a 22-footer on the first possession of the fourth quarter — giving Philadelphia an 81-75 lead.
The Celtics outscored the 76ers 34-20 the rest of the way.
Despite having been his team’s leading scorer and rebounder with 26 and 16, respectively, Embiid knew exactly where to place the blame for the Game 1 defeat.
“I’ve got to do more,” he declared after the game. “I got one job to do: to carry us. I’m going to need my teammates to help, but I need to do more. I’ve got to take more shots, I’ve got to be more aggressive, I’ve got to help my teammates.”
Embiid didn’t do a good job of helping his teammates Monday, assisting one hoop while committing a game-high five turnovers.
The teams shot relatively evenly, and the 76ers enjoyed a 50-43 advantage on the boards. But the big difference in Game 1 was the fact the Celtics committed just seven turnovers, compared to the 76ers’ 18.
The news coming out of the game wasn’t all good for the Celtics. Their leader in steals with four, Gordon Hayward suffered a Grade III right-ankle sprain in the fourth quarter. He almost surely is out for the rest of the series and could miss the next round as well if the Celtics get that far.
Hayward played 34 minutes in the opener, contributing 12 points, four rebounds and three assists to the win along with the four steals.
Marcus Smart is the logical replacement, but that further weakens the Boston bench, which was single-handedly outscored by the 76ers’ Alec Burks, 18-8, in Game 1.
Even before the news of the severity of Hayward’s injury, Tatum knew the road to eliminating the rival 76ers would be a bumpy one.
“They’re not going to go away,” he assured the media Monday. “They’re a tough team. It’s the playoffs. You’ve got to come together as a team. You’ve got to play hard. You ain’t going to be perfect. That’s what we did. We came together and stuck it out.”
That was especially the case among forward tandems, where Tatum and Brown combined to dominate the 76ers’ Tobias Harris and Al Horford in scoring (61-21) and 3-point shooting (7-for-13 to 0-for-4). The Celtics duo also enjoyed a 19-15 edge on the boards.
The win was just the Celtics’ second in five meetings with the 76ers this season.
–Field Level Media