Irving leads Celtics past Embiid-less Sixers

By Sean Kennedy (@PhillyFastBreak)

Boston 108, Philadelphia 97 – Box Score

Traveling to Boston on the second night of a back-to-back and playing without star center Joel Embiid (rest) and master of grit T.J. McConnell (bruised shoulder), plenty of forces were conspiring against the Sixers Thursday. Though the remaining Sixers fought hard, even taking a brief 2-point lead in the third quarter, Kyrie Irving and the Celtics proved too much to handle for Brett Brown’s bunch.

Whenever the Sixers made things close, Boston would respond with a huge run, often propelled by an outburst from Irving. Uncle Drew finished with a game-high 36 points, shooting 12-21 from the field and 5-8 from behind the arc. The earth isn’t flat, but Kyrie consistently left Sixers defenders flat-footed, basically twirling the ball around on a string and finishing with a dazzling array of floaters and high-arcing lay-ins. Al Horford (21 points on 9-12 shooting) and Jayson Tatum 15 points also came up with some huge buckets in the back-half of the fourth quarter, as the Celtics simply threw too many options at a shorthanded Sixers squad.

Still, there were certainly bright spots for Philadelphia. Dario Saric assumed a larger role in the frontcourt with Embiid sitting, playing crunch time as the lineup’s stretch-five. Dario showed off his full complement of skills, recording a double-double with 18 points and 10 rebounds, to go along with 3 made threes (on 6 attempts) and 4 assists. It was Saric’s seventh straight game with at least 7 rebounds, as he continues to look more and more comfortable after a shaky start to the season. Rarely does Saric make things look pretty, but whether it’s a herky-jerky post-up or scrapping for an offensive rebound, the Croatian sensation gets the job done.

A guy who does make things look pretty is Ben Simmons. The Sixers point guard showed Tatum wasn’t the only outstanding rookie on the court Thursday night, collecting 15 points, 6 rebounds, 7 assists, and 5 steals. Coming off the intentional foul fiasco against Washington, Simmons hit 3 of his 4 free throw attempts. Although it wasn’t a sterling defensive effort from Ben, he did make some truly remarkable plays on some of those steals. Simmons’ wingspan seems as wide as the equator in snatching this Marcus Smart pass out of the air and taking it the other way.

He also turned an off-the-mark J.J. Redick jumper into a finish worthy of a running-out-of-time slam dunk contest submission, something not many point guards in the league would be able to pull off.

A game that was a schedule loss to begin with, and the Sixers decided to punt anyway by sitting Embiid, Thursday night wasn’t tough to swallow. JoJo will have two days rest heading into a matchup with the Pistons at home Saturday night. A surprisingly impactful game in the Eastern Conference standings, let’s hope they shut Stan Van Gundy up about the Process yet again.


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