That common prediction showed out in the early goings, as Boston built a healthy lead and continue to pile on the points throughout the first half with a three point barrage. A late surge from Philadelphia saw the lead cut down to just 7 points at halftime.
After halftime, Ben Simmons came surging and the home team slowly chipped back at the lead, which chopped and changed over the next 15 or so minutes as the final stretch of basketball approached. The Sixers took it up another gear.
Defensively they slowed down the opposition, all the while being a blur on the offensive end. They took advantage of a smaller Celtics lineup to dominate in the post and played the inside-outside game to perfection.
The Josh Richardson breakaway dunk to secure the win was a fitting end to one of his best games as a Sixer, his team coming up with a 109-98 victory.
Josh Richardson (PHI)- 29 pts, 3 reb, 7 ast, 9-16 fg, 1-5 3p, 10-10 ft
It was a truly magical performance from the 76ers' starting Shooting Guard. He was given a lot more of a license to create for himself, and he did exactly that, sinking mid-range after mid-range to give Celtics fans deja vu. His creativity inside the three point line was second to none, and his hot shooting helped him finish the game the way he started it, by getting buckets.
A dry spell throughout the middle of the game is nothing to worry about when you can close games like he did today, playing his heart out on both sides of the floor and being rewarded with his second highest scoring total of the season.
Kemba Walker (BOS)- 26 pts, 3 ast, 1 stl, 10-20 fg, 5-11 3p, 1-1 ft
Boston's star Point Guard was at it again as he shot his way to another incredible game. He was inch-perfect in the first quarter to help them build a lead and was the only Celtic who performed in the third as they struggled to stay afloat. The entire team could not score consistently in the fourth so it is by no means Walker's fault that he was quiet in that period.
His playmaking was very impressive, having a hand in a lot of the great plays from Tatum, Theis and Jaylen Brown, which is a very underrated aspect of his game.
Marcus Smart (BOS)- 24 pts, 1 ast, 3 stl, 9-14 fg, 5-7 3p, 1-1 ft
When you’re hot, you’re hot, and Marcus Smart was undoubtedly on fire all throughout the game. Apart from one terrible miss, everything he put up looked like nothing but net, and along with that he played with his usual hustle defensively.
He did really well creating his own shot out of pick and roll situations, using a lightning-quick jumpstop to find comfortable positions for him to shoot. It is clear that he has worked long and hard to improve his offensive game, especially the three point shot, but it hasn’t shown through consistently enough so far this season.
Al Horford (PHI)- 17 pts, 8 reb, 6 ast, 2 blk 7-11 fg, 2-3 3p, 1-3 ft
Al Horford in his twelve games prior to this one:
9.3 pts, 6 reb, 3.3 ast, 37.8% from the field and 26% from three.
Saying he has struggled would be an understatement. But, playing against his former team, Horford played a great game. He defended aptly both inside and on the perimeter. His scoring looked seamless and comfortable in the mid-range and from long range. He had multiple excellent pieces of playmaking.
It is very clear that Horford is at his best when he is playing at Center with regular touches of the ball, something that will be a given while Joel Embiid remains out.
The main issue for Boston was an over reliance on isolation plays. They are a very talented one-on-one team but there is no doubt they are at their best when the ball is moving around quickly. Gordon Hayward also wasn’t enough of a feature in the offense. Even when he is struggling to score his skill as a creator can unlock the offense and give the Celtics a secondary option.
The 76er defense was incredibly good at taking away driving lanes, which made it hard for the Celtics three wings to score, but they could easily have taken the road that Kemba took, taking mid range shots rather than just threes and layups.
Their main issue was down the stretch, when they played much smaller lineups just so they could put their best five on the floor. This led to a complete defensive collapse in the low post and ultimately cost them a chance at the game.
They were very good shooting the ball, though, and they created a lot of open threes off of screens. That was about the only advantage they had over the course of the entire game but in the first half there were advantages everywhere on the court.
After a first half in which they got peppered from everywhere on the court, the Sixers righted the ship with a great defensive performance that only allowed 43 second half points. The communication was much sharper than in the first half where they looked dazed, and they made use of all the talent they had on the floor.
They managed to keep up the rebounding without Joel Embiid which is a very good sign, as Al Horford has never been the best rebounder. The ball movement was also extremely good, with many great finds from makeshift playmakers, as Ben Simmons only ended with 3 assists.
The second half rim protection was much better than that of the first half, Al Horford and Norvel Pelle especially, the pair both ending with 2 blocks.
The Sixers won’t have much to worry about without Embiid if they continue to play like this, and it is quite likely that they will have to get used to it considering Joel's injury history .
Boston- 25-11, 3rd in East, take on New Orleans on Saturday
Philadelphia- 25-14, 5th in East, face Dallas on Saturday