The Game 3 box score might not show it, but the Boston Celtics did a decent job of limiting Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid.
The 2023 MVP was due for a good game after returning from a right knee injury, and while he was effective for most of the contest he was limited in the fourth quarter. Embiid finished with 30 points on the night, but he had just four points on 2-for-5 shooting in the final quarter. Plus, his pregame MVP ceremony was ruined, as Boston got the 114-102 win and had an answer for every run Philly went on.
Celtics star Jaylen Brown, who was occasionally tasked with guarding the big man, revealed how the C’s tried to stifle him and others:
“A combination–a combination of reads,” Brown told Sixers ClutchPoints reporter Sam DiGiovanni. “We know how dominant Embiid is, or can be. We know how if those other guys get going, how deadly the Sixers can be. We just ultimately wanted to be better on defense and make it hard for everybody. And I think our pressure and intensity the last two games have done that.”
The C’s gave Embiid a lot of different looks throughout the game, as various players were assigned to him. Center Al Horford defended him a good amount and usually tried to keep Embiid from invading the paint:
Little things from Boston’s defense. Smart on Embiid, Horford on Tucker. Watch Boston keep their help princples. Tucker screens, Tatum in early ok with the roll. Embiid goes to a screen, Celtics switch and Horford right there to kick White out of the matchup. pic.twitter.com/OE0qmlfBVo
— Steve Jones Jr. (@stevejones20) May 4, 2023
Former Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart occasionally guarded Embiid and attempted to disrupt any pass to him when possible. Lastly, forward Grant Williams played solid defense on the MVP throughout the game, as he used his strength to keep Embiid from backing down the smaller Celtics. Williams took a giant stomp to the back of his head for his defensive efforts, yet he didn’t let that stop him from returning shortly after:
Grant Williams got his faced stomped in by Embiid, came back in and played lock down defense
Absolute warrior pic.twitter.com/YCUt5495Pt
— Brendan Duggan (@SidelineDuggs) May 6, 2023
While the Celtics put Embiid, who shoots 85.7% from the charity stripe, on the line a lot early on in Game 3, they were more careful down the stretch. He made 11 out of his 12 free throws, yet had zero attempts in the fourth quarter.
Joe Mazzulla’s message to his team when they were getting in foul trouble:
Wait, that’s it?
“Yes, that’s exactly what I said.”
— Jared Weiss (@JaredWeissNBA) May 6, 2023
On the night, the C’s did an even better job at guarding Philly’s other stars. They held former MVP James Harden to 16 points and a dismal 3-of-14 conversion rate from the field. Additionally, Sixers point guard Tyrese Maxey went a brutal 4-of-16 from the field with just 13 points.
James Harden has made just five of 28 field goal tries (17.9%) since scoring 45 points in Philadelphia’s Game 1 victory.
That’s the worst field goal percentage over any two-game span in his career, regular season or playoffs, in which he’s attempted at least 20 field goals. pic.twitter.com/imro199U6F
— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) May 6, 2023
If the Celtics can keep Embiid off the line even more while still limiting Philly’s other stars, they’ll be in a good spot. Boston now holds a 2-1 series lead and will stay in Philadelphia for Game 4, which tips off Sunday afternoon at 3:30 P.M. EST.
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