The Sixers have six straight wins and a spot atop the Eastern Conference entering the season.
The Sixers improved to 6-1 on the season with a 106-103 win Wednesday night over the Celtics at the Wells Fargo Center. With Nick Nurse as head coach, they have yet to suffer a defeat at home. Boston fell to 5-2.
The Celtics’ comeback push in the final minutes culminated in a game-winning three-point attempt by Kristaps Porzingis on their final possession. He came up short.
Joel Embiid had 27 points, 10 rebounds, four blocks and four assists.
Tyrese Maxey scored 25 points, nine rebounds and five assists.
Kristaps Porzingis scored 29 points. Jayson Tatum had 16 points, 15 rebounds and six assists.
The Sixers play their first game after a 5-0 home score Tournament during the season Friday night’s away game against the Pistons. They’ll see the Celtics again next Wednesday in Philadelphia.
Here are observations from the Sixers’ first win over Boston since their seven-game playoff loss last year:
Completely different first impression against Embiid
Before the dust settled, the Sixers led 6-0 thanks to an instant dunk from Kelly Oubre Jr., a Maxey runner and two free throws from Tobias Harris.
Once the game settled into its normal rhythm, Celtics head coach Joe Mazzulla’s decision to put the 6-foot-2 Jrue Holiday on Embiid and use the 7-foot-1 Porzingis primarily as an off-ball roamer was an intriguing one schematic storyline.
The Sixers seemed confident at times about how they could beat this approach, such as when Embiid got a post-up early in the shot clock, spun from Holiday at the baseline and completed a big dunk to give the team a 10-4 lead. to provide leadership. However, the Sixers’ spacing and Embiid’s decision-making against the Celtics’ double teams were often less than perfect. Boston went on an 11-0 run with four fastbreak points scored on turnovers by Embiid.
When the Celtics went to their bench, it was a conventional duel between Al Horford and Embiid. The reigning MVP became more patient, realizing he could sometimes manipulate Boston’s help defenders and wait for isolation opportunities to develop. It is also often a good option for Embiid to simply shoot over smaller players.
He wasn’t likely to repeat his 48-point performance from Monday night against the Wizards, but Embiid was again strong overall and regularly defended the rim brilliantly. It will be interesting for the Sixers to look at the Celtics defense’s footage on him.
Batum big off the bench
Nearly everyone on the floor missed early open jumps.
Boston started 1-for-8 from both the field and three-point range. Meanwhile, the Sixers came up empty on their first nine long-range attempts, including five by their starting backcourt of Maxey and De’Anthony Melton.
The offense was often a challenge for the Sixers in the first quarter. They only forced two turnovers and therefore only generated a few open play opportunities from defense to offense.
When Paul Reed quickly beat Tatum early in the second quarter and narrowly missed a steal, the four-time All-Star hit Sam Hauser for a wide-open three-pointer. A Horford jumper soon extended the Celtics’ lead to 11 points.
The Sixers bench then provided the necessary positive momentum.
Furkan Korkmaz had a bad night, but Nicolas Batum and Reed were the bright spots of the second unit in the second quarter. Reed was all over the offense and scored a rushing layup on Holiday. Batum carried over the great shot from his Sixers debut, knocking down the team’s first three-pointer. He was also solid defensively, blocking a Porzingis layup and handling the ball sensibly against Tatum and Jaylen Brown. His 7-foot wingspan is obviously an advantage against Boston’s star forwards.
Robert Covington’s length is also a plus in this match. Late in the second quarter he chipped the ball from Derrick White, Melton picked it up and Maxey took advantage seconds later with a layup down the court.
With 1:07 left in the second quarter, Batum jogged straight to the locker room after attempting to take the ball away from Porzingis during a dunk by the Boston big man and sustaining a horrific-looking injury to his right index finger. He was evaluated at halftime and cleared to return, a team official said.
Batum ultimately played 26 minutes off the bench and scored five points on 2-for-3 shooting, four rebounds, one block and one steal.
Oubre retained his starting spot and scored 14 points and eight rebounds.
Maxey continues to push through and comes through in fourth place
Maxey’s persistence was encouraging.
He played through odd calls and missed jumps, accepted the left-handed openings Boston offered him and picked up the pace. The 23-year-old’s defensive performance was also good. Maxey didn’t make every defensive decision, but he continued to fight and fight against bigger players.
Another poor shooting night in Melton was a significant obstacle for the Sixers. Although Melton got back on track against Washington on Monday, he had another difficult outing on Wednesday. Melton fell to 1 for 8 from the field when he botched a layup in the third quarter. Maxey had similarly poor luck as a shooter in the third period, shooting 0-for-5 from the field.
However, with those two players not on the field, the Sixers had a fantastic finish to the quarter, outscoring Boston in a chaotic stretch. After Porzingis missed an uncontested dunk, Covington hit a second-chance three-pointer. The quarter ended with a floater by Patrick Beverley, followed by Embiid’s defense of a failed layup attempt by Payton Pritchard.
Maxey extended the Sixers’ lead to 83-71 with a basket on the Sixers’ first possession of the fourth quarter. He played excellently with Embiid on the bench, often reacting to Celtics baskets and keeping Boston from going on a serious run. His standout plays included a smooth pick-and-roll in a line, a downhill right-hand burst, and a beautifully elevated runner.
As soon as Embiid checked back in, Maxey hit a crucial three-pointer after the timeout. Harris (17 points, nine rebounds) also made a few jumps and the Sixers extended their lead to 102-87.
This meant no stable, smooth finish. The Sixers made mistake after mistake – fouls that gave the Celtics free points and stopped the clock; shaky possessions that ended in turnovers – and Boston took advantage. Tatum’s layup off a Melton giveaway cut the Sixers’ lead to just 104-100 with 61 seconds left.
Finally, Embiid hit a fadeaway jumper. However, Brown responded with a hard-fought three-pointer against Maxey. He also blocked Maxey’s shot on the ensuing possession, meaning Boston had an unlikely chance to force overtime. The Sixers were relieved that an additional session wasn’t necessary.