The Celtics Pushed The Sixers To The Brink Of Elimination By Winning Game 3

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The Boston Celtics continue to confound the Philadelphia 76ers. Despite a raucous crowd at Wells Fargo Center, a 22-point and 19-rebound performance by Joel Embiid, and a huge shot at the end of regulation by Marco Belinelli, the Celtics managed to go on the road and pick up a 101-98 win. With the victory, Boston put Philadelphia on the brink of elimination, as the Celtics opened up a 3-0 lead in the series.

The story of this game, aside from the fact that Boston is doing some amazing stuff without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, was that Philadelphia just kept making mistakes that were ultimately their undoing. Let’s start at the end of the game, as the Sixers had the ball with 10 seconds left in a tied game. Ben Simmons and J.J. Redick looked to get their signals crossed, which led to a turnover and a layup for Jaylen Brown.

Belinelli made a jumper to force overtime, and with the momentum in their corner, the Sixers looked like they could ride a wave to tie up this series. But again, down the stretch, a brutal play that ended up killing Philly — this time, it came after Embiid missed a jumper while Philadelphia was up by one. Simmons grabbed the rebound, and despite the shot clock being turned off, he went up for a bunny and missed.

It was just a brutal moment for Philadelphia, but their bad luck wasn’t done yet. Before we continue with that, let’s watch this gorgeous sideline inbound play, something that Brad Stevens draws up better than anyone.

With the Sixers still up by one, Boston managed to get Al Horford isolated on the low block against Robert Covington. Marcus Morris looped a pass in to Horford, as Covington tried to front the Celtics’ big man. The pass was perfect — Horford got the ball, laid it in, and put Boston up by one.

Philadelphia took a time out and advanced the ball, but because things couldn’t be brutal enough, the Sixers committed another turnover. Simmons tried to inbound the ball to Embiid, but between the mix of a pass that was imperfect, Embiid not getting separation, and some outstanding defense by Horford, Boston’s All-Star center jumped the passing lane and went the other way.

Horford stretched the lead to 101-98 at the line, and Belinelli’s prayer at the end of the game was unanswered. For the Sixers, it was as painful of a loss as you can experience, as the team snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. The turnover issues that plagued them all year were too much to overcome, and the youth that has made them such a fun team to loss caught up with them.

The issue with the whole “the Sixers choked this game away” thing, though, is that the Celtics fought and battled and did everything they needed to do to win. For example, Jayson Tatum was absolutely brilliant, as the rookie attacked the Sixer defense with his remarkably well-rounded offensive game.

Tatum led all scorers with 24 points on 11-for-17 shooting. He also pitched in five rebounds and four assists. Terry Rozier had 18 points, seven rebounds, three assists, and two steals, while Jaylen Brown came off the bench and accrued 16 points and nine rebounds. Horford didn’t have huge numbers — 13 points, six rebounds, three blocks, two steals, two assists — but came up big down the stretch.

For Philadelphia, Embiid led the team in scoring and rebounding. Five other players reached double-digits in scoring: Redick (18 points), Simmons (16 points, eight rebounds, eight assists), Ersan Ilyasova (14 points, seven rebounds), Belinelli (12 points), and Dario Saric (11 points).

Game 4 is on Monday night, and the Sixers are going to almost certainly come out swinging. That’s just what happens when a team is backed into the corner, and it will be Philadelphia’s responsibility to find a way to play aggressive basketball without making the mistakes that caught up to them on Saturday. The Sixers are talented enough to fight back, and who knows? Maybe they’ll be the first team to come back from a 3-0 deficit to win a series.

What is far more likely is that the shorthanded Celtics are going to punch their ticket to the conference finals, either in Game 4 or sometime shortly thereafter. The fact that this Boston squad is in a position to sweep is a testament to their players and coaches, and even if Philadelphia is viewed as the team of the future in the Eastern Conference, the Celtics (which have a pretty bright future, too) are doing everything they can to make right now about themselves.