"Here we go again."
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If you're a Sixers fans, you surely said that as the Celtics took an 11-point halftime lead and took a 99-90 lead late in the fourth.
But after Joel Embiid willed them back into the game with a monster third quarter, Jimmy Butler did his thing in the fourth and the Sixers were finally able to conquer their Boston demons in a 118-115 comeback win at the Wells Fargo Center Wednesday night.
The victory prevented a Celtics season sweep and improved the Sixers to 47-25 on the season.
Here are observations from the team's sixth straight win:
• Well if there were any concerns about Embiid being able to score against the Celtics, they were put to bed in the first half. Embiid was dominant, scoring 18 points and pulling down 10 rebounds. He lived at the line, going 9 of 10.
It helped that Embiid got a deep touch on his first of the game. He was able to draw a foul on Al Horford and that seemed to set a tone. Aron Baynes just couldn't handle Embiid. The giant Aussie was begging for calls - one of which he inexplicably got - and flopping all over the place.
This was a chippy one overall as Embiid and Marcus Smart got into it in the first minute of the second half. The players got tangled up on a side out of bounds with Smart hitting the deck. Smart then got up and shoved Embiid to the ground while the center's back was turned. Smart was given a Flagrant 2 and ejected. Embiid was assessed a technical. It seemed to fire up the crowd - and Embiid (see story).
As mentioned before, Embiid's chances of winning MVP are slim, but man, this was an MVP-type performance. It felt like he willed the Sixers back into the game with a 15-point third quarter. He also came up with a huge block on Kyrie Irving late in the game.
He finished with 37 points and 22 rebounds.
• The one thing Brad Stevens is very good at is exploiting mismatches. He got Embiid in pick-and-rolls, which forced him to cover Irving. Early on, it went predictably terrible with Irving scorching the Sixers in the first quarter.
After that, Embiid actually did a decent job. On one play, he forced Irving into an ugly missed jumper, but the refs bailed Irving out. Brett Brown let the official have it and was given a technical.
Give Brown credit as he gave Stevens a taste of his own medicine, targeting Irving on the other end.
• There's been plenty made of Ben Simmons' struggles against the Celtics, but he had a strong first half. He mentioned on Tuesday night that there was nothing special or different about this matchup. His determined and aggressive play Wednesday showed otherwise.
He did slow down in the second half a bit, but he was strong defensively (three steals) and took care of the basketball (two turnovers). He also gave the Sixers a 116-113 lead with 40.8 seconds to go on a nice drive and completed the three-point play with a huge made free throw. Simmons had 13 points, eight rebounds and seven assists.
• While Embiid and Simmons both did their part, the rest of the team's starting five couldn't get anything going early.
Tobias Harris was able to get some great looks, but went just 4 of 12 in the first half. Butler and JJ Redick went a combined 2 of 13 before halftime.
Then fourth quarter Jimmy Butler showed up.
Butler erased a 105-99 Boston lead by nailing back-to-back threes to tie the game with 5:03 remaining. He also hit a dagger midrange jumper that put the Sixers up 118-113 with 4.7 seconds left that sent the crowd into a frenzy. Butler had 15 of his 22 points in the final period. That is why you trade for Jimmy Butler.
Harris also made a nice play to Embiid for an easy look at the basket to give the Sixers their first lead late in the fourth. Harris finished with 21 points and eight rebounds.
• Brown continues to ride with Boban Marjanovic as his backup center and it didn't look great in the first half. Marjanovic was targeted in pick-and-rolls and just doesn't have quick enough feet to play defense the way the Sixers want to. To Brown's credit, he did switch things up, going to a small-ball lineup when he could and basically matching Embiid up with Horford.
• Horford just continues to torture the Sixers on both ends of the floor. He's still the only player in the NBA I've seen that can defend both Embiid and Simmons. He was a plus-20 at one point in the first half. Say what you want about Irving or Jayson Tatum, but Horford is Boston's best player every time it plays the Sixers. He recorded 22 points, six rebounds and five assists.
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