Celtics Make Emphatic Game 2 Statement, But 76ers Still Have Puncher’s Chance
When the Philadelphia 76ers won Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup against the Boston Celtics without Joel Embiid, many were caught off guard by the upset. But what could have been a statement win in the series turned out to be little more than a wake-up call, as the Celtics emerged in Game 2 Wednesday night and put away the Sixers early, winning 121-87.
Understanding how Philadelphia won Game 1 begins and ends with James Harden, who scored 45 points in Embiid’s injury-related absence to propel the team to a 119-115 victory. The Celtics didn’t necessarily play poorly in the contest, but Harden simply seemed to turn back the clock and stole the game from the perimeter. It’s a good way to win a single contest, but it’s not a sustainable strategy for a series.
Even with Embiid back on the floor in Game 2, the Sixers as a unit appeared dull while the Celtics went on to have a typical night, including a 35-point third quarter which effectively ended the game. Embiid, possibly still easing back into play, scored a meager 15 points while Harden only scored 12. The guard didn’t make a single three-pointer after shooting 50% on 14 shots from beyond the arc in Game 1.
The offense around the two suffered in turn — Tyrese Maxey’s points total was halved from 26 in Game 1 to 13 in Game 2. De’Anthony Milton was a non-factor off the bench after scoring 17 points in the team’s earlier victory.
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Comparing the offenses of the Sixers and Celtics is like comparing the styles of a knockout boxer and ring tactician. The Sixers’ offense runs through two players, Embiid and Harden, and one could even argue that the recently crowned MVP takes sole control more often than not. If a team manages to contain the pair, as the Celtics did Wednesday night, it becomes very difficult for Philadelphia to produce.
The Celtics, on the other hand, never rely on a single scorer, with at least six players having the ability to make a difference on any given night. In Game 1, Jayson Tatum was the focal point with 39 points, but when he appeared limited by an injury in Game 2, the team’s production didn’t suffer at all. Jaylen Brown and Malcolm Brogdon combined for 48 points and none of the team’s starters had to play more than 30 minutes in the blowout.
Boston’s statement in Game 2 was clear and momentum has firmly swung back in the team’s direction early on in the series, but Philadelphia still has winning chances. Just like in Game 1, one of the team’s two stars will simply have to play at an incredible level to defeat the best team left in the playoffs. Embiid is sure to improve over the course of the series as he gradually returns to full-time action, and Harden simply has to make the same shots he made in Game 1.
With the Celtics in a seemingly unstoppable groove on offense, the only way for the Sixers to win is by meeting the challenge head-on. Anything short of perfection will likely yield similarly poor results,
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