76ers vs. Celtics takeaways: Philadelphia completes season series sweep of Boston for first time since 2001

The Boston Celtics had no luck against the Philadelphia 76ers this season. The Sixers and Celtics met for the third and final time on Tuesday night, and just like in the first two meetings, it was the Sixers who came out on top. The contest was close early on, but the Sixers pulled away in the second quarter and never really looked back. Ultimately, they walked away with a 106-96 win in a game that felt much less close than the final score would indicate. With the win, the Sixers completed a series sweep over the rival Celtics for the first time since 2001 — when Allen Iverson was in a Sixers uniform. 

Joel Embiid led Philadelphia with 35 points and six rebounds, while Danny Green also added 17 points for Sixers. Embiid was playing in just his second game back after a lengthy layoff due to a knee injury, but you wouldn’t have known it watching him play as he went to work on one Celtics defender after another. Jayson Tatum led the way for Boston with 20 points, but he shot just 7-of-17 from the floor and 3-of-10 from long range. 

Here’s a look at three key takeaways from Philadelphia’s win over Boston:

  1. Embiid owned the Celtics this season

Joel Embiid struggled against Celtics teams in the past, but that certainly wasn’t the case this season. Over the course of the three contests between the two teams, Embiid proved that the Celtics don’t have anyone capable of even slowing him down, let alone anyone on their current roster capable of stopping him. Embiid scored 42 points and grabbed 11 rebounds in the first game, and then followed that up with a 38 point, 11 rebound performance in their second meeting. On Tuesday night, Embiid posted 35 points and six rebounds to bring his season total to 115 points in three games against Boston. 

In the three games against Boston, Embiid shot a staggering 56 total free throws — a number that shows just how physically dominant the big man has been. In addition to his own production, Embiid also generates countless other open opportunities for his teammates. Since the Celtics don’t have an individual player capable of matching up with Embiid one-on-one, they’re forced to double team him consistently. Thanks to Embiid’s improved ability to handle doubles, that resulted in ample scoring opportunities for Philadelphia, as Embiid is able to read the double and kick the ball back out. Such action doesn’t always result in a direct assist for Embiid, but he is very often responsible for starting the swing of the ball that ultimately results in a Sixers basket. 

The Celtics swept the Sixers in the first round of the playoffs last year, and that clearly didn’t sit well with Embiid, who exacted his revenge this season. If the two teams were to meet in the postseason again this year — which is possible given the current state of the Eastern Conference — the Celtics would have to figure out a different plan when it comes to guarding Embiid, or else the series would probably be a pretty short one. 

2. Philadelphia’s elite team defense was on full display

A big factor in Philadelphia’s win on Tuesday night was their ability to generate turnovers. In all, the Sixers forced the Celtics to commit 20 turnovers, while committing just 13 of their own. Some of Boston’s turnovers were the result of bad passes and lackadaisical play, but some were the result of great team defense from Philadelphia. Just look at how well the entire Sixers defense moves in this first quarter possession that resulted in a Matisse Thybulle steal: 

All five players on the floor for Philadelphia were moving and giving the extra effort that separates a good defensive team from a great one. It was the same story in this play from early in the second quarter. 

This time good rotations and extra effort from Philadelphia resulted in a steal for Furkan Korkmaz. This was a theme all night. You probably get the idea, but here’s one more example of Philadelphia’s stellar defensive effort from late in the third quarter (h/t Bleacher Report’s Mo Dakhil for the clips): 

This time the defensive effort didn’t result in a turnover, but it did result in an extremely difficult shot for Tatum, which is all you can ask for on any given possession. Philadelphia entered Tuesday night with the league’s second-best defense, and they demonstrated why — they’re extremely long, athletic, and active on that end of the floor, and they’re willing to give the extra effort. 

3. Celtics still searching for answers with the playoffs looming 

With the loss to the Sixers, the Celtics dropped to a game under .500 on the 2020-21 campaign (25-26). It’s safe to say that’s not where they expected to be at this point in the season. It seems like everyone keeps waiting for the Celtics to flip a switch and turn into the team that made it all the way to the conference finals last season, but it just hasn’t happened. With the league’s twelfth-best offense and eighteenth-best defense, the Celtics are a middling team on both ends of the floor. They clearly lack the defensive identity that they have had in the past. In fact, more often than not they look like a team without any identity that relies heavily on a couple players — mainly Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown — to carry the heavy load on a night-in, night-out basis.

There are still roughly six weeks until the start of postseason play, so the Celtics still have an opportunity to iron out their issues, but they’re quickly running out of time. If the season ended today the Celtics would find themselves in the play-in tournament and in danger of potentially missing the postseason entirely. Boston’s roster is likely to undergo a major makeover over the offseason, but until then the Celtics will need the players currently on the roster to step up if they have any hope of salvaging the season. 

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