By MyFM's Jake Archer - If you wanted to talk about two of the most exciting teams on the rise in the NBA, you'd probably start the conversation with the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers. Both organizations have a deep history and a passionate fan base and with the success they've seen recently, a rivalry has been renewed. The Sixers were favored despite being the lower seed, because they've been the hottest team post All Star break and the Celtics are obviously without major pieces. Despite all of the talent on Philly's roster and how many NBA experts were thinking, Celtics fans knew it would be irresponsible to doubt their team.
In Game 1, Boston made a big time statement. They used the energy from the home crowd and the motivation they got from being the underdog and rolled over the Sixers to a 117-101 win. It was just their second loss in the last 22 games. Philly may have some big time stars like "rookie" Ben Simmons (if you don't know, he's in his second year but since he was injured for all of his first people are saying he's going to be Rookie Of The Year), and the always entertaining Joel Embiid but they are not as polished as the C's. "The Process" is going to have to wait a little bit.
Right out of the gate, you could tell Philly was rusty. They had six days off after dispatching the Miami Heat in five and their shooting was certainly off. They missed 15 of their first 20 shots and never really found a good rythmn. Terry Rozier and the Celtics attacked them right away and made it known that they were ready to roll. The game stayed close until the second, when Boston went on a run and put their foot on the gas. The fans in Boston seemed to get under the skin of guys like Embiid and Simmons as they unraveled and let everything seem to get away. They did cut the lead to single digits in the second half at one point, but their was never any real threat.
The Celtics were led by their rookie (a real one) Jayson Tatum, who scored a career-high 28 points. They also got 29 from "Scary Terry" who showed again why he's more than just a backup point guard. The stars really got the job done for Boston, as Al Horford added 26 and Marcus Morris also scored in double figures. The only players that didn't see action were Greg Monroe and Jaylen Brown, who sat with a hamstring injury sustained in the Game 7 win over Milwaukee. The fact that the C's got the job done without Brown was impressive, but it was even more amazing that the game was so lopsided. Brown wanted to play, but the Celtics sat him out as a precaution. It turned out to work in their favor.
Embiid led all scorers with 31 points and also grabbed 13 rebounds, five assists and one steal. Simmons, Dario Saric, Marco Belinelli and JJ Redick were all double digit point scorers, but none of them had positive plus/minuses. The only player to remain on the bench for Philly was this year's #1 overall pick, Markelle Fultz. Fultz sat because he's had tough year to say the least. After getting hurt and losing all confidence in his jumper, Fultz seems to be a little too fragile mentally to get out on the floor in the playoffs. It's safe to say the Celtics did the right thing by trading back in the draft and taking Tatum instead (Philly legend Julius Erving even said it after Game 1).
Despite it being very fun to see the Celtics stomp on the Sixers, one game does not make a series. They needed to come back on Thursday night and protect home court. Philadelphia had been punched in the mouth and they were going to come back swinging, so there was no time to celebrate for Boston. Instead, they'd need to bring it even harder. The stars were out in Boston for Game 2, and they'd see a show that was almost too good to script.
Jaylen Brown was back in action for Boston, but he came off the bench. Upon entering in the first, he immediately made his presence felt with a breakaway dunk. Though he played a lot and performed well, he was grimacing a few times after dunking or sprinting down the court. Hopefully the injury doesn't linger and get worse because Boston needs him. Anyway, the first quarter saw Boston start slow offensively. Philly built up a 31-22 lead and then blew the game open in the second with a 14-2 run. The Sixers were rejuvenated and soon the C's found themselves in a 22-point hole. Everything was going right for Philly and I'm sure many were wondering if they had woken up and officially turned the tide.
It didn't take long to find your answer there, because the Celtics started a rally. They finished off the half on a 25-8 run and trailed by only five at the break. It was clear that they weren't going to go down easy and that they had a bunch of confidence. Midway through the third, they finally took the lead. Philly had blown a huge advantage and now they were on their heels. They finally recovered a bit in the fourth and put themselves back in front by five. Again though, Boston was resilient. They rattled off an 11-4 run to go up 99-95 with less than four minutes to play. Philly cut it to three with under a minute to go and the Celtics had possession in need of insurance.
Horford drove right to the hoop by Embiid to put Boston up by five and pretty much ice the game with 8.3 seconds left. Embiid was playing with five fouls so he was timid on defense, but in that spot I don't understand letting Horford go cleanly. Big Al has been great for Boston all playoffs and he's really worked Embiid in the first two games of this series. Sixers coach Brett Brown even called it a mismatch afterwards. Boston had the 108-103 win and Philly was left demoralized.
The Celtics were again led by Tatum and Rozier, who scored 21 and 20 respectively. Horford, Brown, Morris and Marcus Smart all were in double figures as well. Guerschon Yabusele and Abdel Nader were the only Boston players to sit. On Philadelphia's side, Robert Covington was the top scorer with 22 points. Embiid, Saric, Redick and Belinelli were the others to score in double digits. Ben Simmons had a horrific stat line as he only scored one point all night. He was actually benched at one point for TJ McConnell. That's not a good look for a star player in a big moment. The Sixers sat Fultz, Richaun Holmes, Jerryd Bayless and Justin Anderson all night.
Now the series shifts to Philadelphia for Game 3 later this afternoon. Tip off is scheduled for 5 p.m. and I'd be shocked to see the Sixers let this one get away. Boston is trying to win their first game on the road this postseason and take a stranglehold on the series. They've never blown a 2-0 lead as a franchise and Philly has never come back from this type of deficit. Obviously, that doesn't matter much as it's two completely new groups but it's still fun to say as a Celtic fan. They've still got to be tough and take a game on the road, so it's too early to get excited but there are a lot of good things happening including the largest playoff comeback victory for the team since 2008. There's no shortage of storylines in this series and I'm excited to see even more action unfold later. Check back here for more updates!