Joel Embiid made his return to the lineup as the Philadelphia 76ers looked to build on their series lead against the Boston Celtics. In Game 2, the Sixers got a solid performance from Embiid but also got buried under a mountain of triples, losing by a score of 121-87.
Let’s break down Game 2 between the Sixers and the Celtics.
Sixers player notes:
Joel Embiid: 15 points, 3 rebounds, 0 assists, 5 blocks, 4-9 FG shooting
He’s back. After being named the MVP, Embiid made his return to the floor. He had to be eased back into the game but instantly made the Sixers’ defense serious, blocking five shots in the first 18 minutes of the game. His defense was just fantastic, as he baited shots at the rim before swatting it away. Even when someone had a path to the hoop, Embiid was there to deny them points.
Foul shots helped get him by early before he started to get somewhat of a rhythm by attacking the hoop. He wasn’t able to shoot his way back into it in the third quarter and was given the fourth quarter off after the Celtics built a massive lead.
James Harden: 12 points, 10 rebounds, 4 assists, 2-14 FG shooting
Harden’s Game 1 masterclass put the Sixers in a very advantageous situation, as they were guaranteed to at least split the first two Boston games of this series. Game 2 was another story, as he was ice-cold from the field. He couldn’t buy a jumper to fall. Although he got to the foul line at a solid rate and shot 8-10 from the line, he spent too much time trying to find his own shot. It made sense given how good he was Monday and with Embiid still getting reacclimated but this was just a game that will make Uno say ay, caramba.
Tyrese Maxey: 13 points, 3 rebounds, 3 assists, 6-14 FG shooting
Maxey speeded his way to the rim frequently, making him the only Sixer who had anything going offensively in the first half. The best defender against him was himself due to foul trouble, killing his momentum in what otherwise could have been a high-scoring outing.
Celtics player notes:
Jayson Tatum: 7 points, 7 rebounds, 3 assists, 1-7 FG shooting
Tatum got to the charity stripe often to start the game but otherwise wasn’t able to do too much due to foul trouble in the first half. He ended up playing only 19 minutes but the Celtics didn’t need much from him with the guys around him playing so well.
Jaylen Brown: 25 points, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals, 9-17 FG shooting
Brown got off to a hot start in Game 1 but wasn’t able to carry it throughout the final three quarters. He started off great again with 13 points in the first quarter and carried that killer mindset with him, scoring from inside and out and leading the push in the third quarter that effectively sealed the win. His defense on Harden was key, too.
Malcolm Brogdon: 23 points, 6 rebounds, 2 assists, 7-15 FG shooting
Brogdon spearheaded the 3-point barrage by shooting 6-10 from downtown. The Sixers still can’t get him out of his spots or knock him off his rhythm.
Embiid returned to the lineup after the Sixers stole Game 1 behind an epic James Harden performance. Even with the concerns about his conditioning and mobility, his return seemed like a massive boost to the Sixers’ defense, which gave the Celtics free passes to the rim all the time in Game 1. Philly planned to play Embiid with no minutes restriction but was ready to tweak the rotations based on how he felt.
Embiid seemed to be moving fine to start out. Moving laterally and changing direction didn’t seem to bother him and he wasn’t dogging it, though he obviously wasn’t flying all over the floor willy-nilly. He made the right plays as the Cetltis sent multiple defenders at him. When the Celtics tried to get to the hoop, Embiid forced a miss and blocked a shot from behind. His intimidating, lumbering presence made the pace of this one much different from the last game.
Doc Rivers first subbed out Embiid after seven minutes, moving off of his usual plan to play him the whole first quarter. In one of his first possessions, Paul Reed displayed his development by not jumping into Malcolm Brogdon after a step-through move. He jumped to the side to block the shot, setting up a Harden transition layup. He also dropped a behind-the-back dime to De’Anthony Melton for a push shot in the paint.
Embiid came back in the final minute of the quarter while Harden went to the bench. He made his first field goal on a jumper over Grant Williams but some tough buckets from Smart put the Celtics up by six after the period. Brogdon injected some juice into the Boston offense and made good plays on defense to build an 11-point lead. Brown went for a poster on Embiid but Embiid denied it. He then tricked Brogdon into thinking he had a step before swatting that shot, too, and then got another break shortly thereafter.
Tucker took a charge on Tatum to give him three fouls but the Celtics maintained a lead as the Sixers’ offense tried to find itself. Harden wasn’t able to work his Game 1 magic and literally only Maxey could make a triple. Maxey kept the wheels spinning with some nifty buckets but even then, he picked up three fouls before halftime. Embiid forced his way to the hoop to keep the Sixers within striking distance.
At the break, Boston led 57-49.
Smart and Embiid exchanged turnaround middies to start the half as Rivers put Tucker on Brown and Harris on Tatum, swapping their original assignments. Brown ripped off seven points in the opening minutes as the Sixers blew some easy chances. Embiid looked more confident in taking things into his own hands but came away empty on a few open shots. Boston went up by 14 Tatum picked up his fourth foul by inadvertently whacking Harden in the face.
A 12-1 run from the Celtics gave them an 18-point lead as they forced the Sixers to keep settling for jumpers. Harden struggled to shake off the defense from Brown, keeping the offense slow and reliant on one-on-ones after failing to find a gap.
Derrick White came alive with 10 points in the third quarter as a good shooting night from the Celtics turned into an insane one as they led by 27 entering the fourth quarter. Philly’s poor ability to cover up its openings contributed to that but also, sometimes, teams just get ridiculously hot. Horford when 1-8 from deep and the team was still shooting 40 percent from downtown through the first three quarters.
Jaden Springer checked into the game with 10 minutes left. Shake Milton and Danuel House Jr. came into the game shortly after as Embiid and the starters rested for the final frame. Process Hall of Famer Mike Muscala hit a trey, Springer hit a nice pull-up two and Danel House Jr. got a tech for spiking the ball.
A loss is a loss, especially one this lopsided, but there are still plenty of positive takeaways from this game. Embiid got some of his conditioning back after nearly two weeks in between games and looked pretty good. The Sixers did the best that they could reasonably be expected and stole a game on the road. Embiid should be able to lead the offense more after getting his legs back under him.
No more drone cam ever again, please.
The series turns to Philadelphia starting on Friday.
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