Celtics win over 76ers highlights versatility: “this game was probably one of our best games of the year”

Celtics win over 76ers highlights versatility: “this game was probably one of our best games of the year”


With just under nine minutes to play, the Celtics’ lead – which was 14 points just minutes earlier – was down to two. Cam Payne and Tobias Harris hit consecutive triples, and Joe Mazzulla called for a timeout.

For a moment, it seemed like it could be one of those nights. The Celtics struggled from downtown, hitting a season-low 5 three-pointers on 22 attempts. Tyrese Maxey was going off, scoring 30 points through three quarters. And, the winners of 8 games in a row, Boston was probably due for a loss anyways.

But then, in a five-minute span from 7:55 to 2:36 left in the fourth, the Celtics embarked on a dominant 16-0 run, and the very same game that previously felt destined for a clutch-time finish became a blowout.

Jayson Tatum, who started the game slow, finished the fourth quarter with 15 points, going 4-8 from the field and 7-7 from the line. He ended the game with another near-triple double: 29 points, 11 rebounds, and 8 assists.

Jaylen Brown, who attacked the rim relentlessly all night, finished with 31 points on 11-14 shooting. Kristaps Porzingis scored 23 points and went a perfect 12-12 from the line. And the defensive-minded backcourt of Derrick White and Jrue Holiday — despite only combining for 14 shot attempts — added 13 rebounds, 10 assists, 3 steals, and 5 blocks.

The story of the night was that the 76ers took away the three-ball. On average, Boston leads the league in 16.1 made threes on 42.3 attempts per game. In turn, the Celtics attacked the basket and finished 34-37 from the line, demonstrating that contrary to popular belief, the top offense in the NBA is, in fact, not solely reliant on three-pointers.

“This game was probably one of our best games of the year, from the standpoint of we were able to win in a different way,” Joe Mazzulla said in his postgame presser. “This game showed a template of how teams are going to guard us, and it gives us another thing to practice. I thought our guys did a great job.”

Mazzulla, who’s made it a point to emphasize the intrinsic connection between offense and defense this season, said that the Celtics tightened their offense in the second half after struggling a bit in the first. As a result, they were able to hold Philadelphia to just 99 points.

“In order to be a great defensive team, you have to be really good on offense,” Mazzulla said. “I just thought we were unorganized a little bit on the offensive end, got some empty possessions, got some turnovers. In the second half, we did a great job of getting to our spots, physicality in our drives, and we controlled the shot margin, with our one shot defense and our ability to get to the free-throw line.”

Jaylen Brown – who has had three consecutive first halves with at least 18 points – took just two three-pointers against Philadelphia, and after the game, he noted that the low figure was not an accident.

“A part of my job, my responsibility is to get to the paint, to collapse the defense, to make sure we are getting open looks,” Brown said. “Sometimes I pass up threes in order to try to get a paint touch because we need a little bit more of those to help our three-point shooting even more.”

Joe Mazzulla praised Brown’s performance: “He’s just always in attack mode. I love what Jaylen’s doing. I love the work he’s putting in, I love the poise that he’s playing with on the offensive end. I love the way he’s getting different baskets, whether it’s handling, whether it’s in transition, the poise he’s playing with in the post. He’s really reading the game, and taking advantage of it.”

The win means the Celtics’ lead in the Eastern Conference is up to 7.5 games. It’ll take something drastic for Boston to end up with a seed lower than #1, but Jayson Tatum said the team isn’t paying too close attention to the standings.

“We don’t talk about it much, we really just try to get better every single day. Sounds cliche, sounds boring,” Tatum said. “Maybe last year, we rushed or looked past opponents and we were just ready to get to the playoffs, but this year we’ve really taken it one day at a time.”

Instead, they are looking at each game as an opportunity to get better. Mazzulla said last night gave them new material to learn from – in this instance, they worked to execute offensively against a defense intent on taking away the three: “It just gives us something to study, gives us something to work on, and grateful we were able to play that game.”


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