While the absence of Ben Simmons looms over the series, the anticipation was still palpable for Game 1 between the Boston Celtics and the Philadelphia 76ers in Orlando. On Monday evening, the two teams matched up and, 48 minutes later, the buzz was still present for the remainder of the series after a close-fought battle. Game 1 went to the Celtics, however, with Boston outlasting Philadelphia by a final score of 109-101 behind a star-level effort from Jayson Tatum and strong contributions from Jaylen Brown and others.
The Sixers began the night in encouraging fashion, running their offense through Joel Embiid. The All-NBA center made his first five shots, scoring 11 points in the first eight minutes, and he punctuated that spurt with a wild, step-back three-pointer.
JoJo jams to get this one started.
Horford finds a streaking Embiid, who comes in for the one-handed slam. pic.twitter.com/SN6vDHPqK4
— NBC Sports Philadelphia (@NBCSPhilly) August 17, 2020
Boston hung around, however, and Philadelphia’s lack of ball security was key in allowing the Celtics to do so. From there, Brown enjoyed himself in the first quarter, leading the Celtics with ten points.
As the second quarter unfolded, the Celtics took control, leading by as many as ten points and clamping down on Philadelphia’s offense. Tatum also got loose for Boston, scoring 15 points in the second quarter (and 21 in the first half) to push the Celtics to a six-point halftime edge.
— Celtics on NBC Sports Boston (@NBCSCeltics) August 17, 2020
Philadelphia’s first-half offense was simultaneously encouraging and infuriating, fitting into the team’s overall ethos this season. On one hand, the Sixers shot 56 percent from the floor and flashed their upside. On the other, Philadelphia committed 13 turnovers and, after a strong start from Embiid, the offense scuffled in terms of efficiency.
Out of the halftime break, Tatum picked up where he left off, getting to his spots and finishing effectively, even when challenged.
JT's getting whatever he wants pic.twitter.com/tzLF1N1zwY
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) August 17, 2020
After the Celtics built a 75-66 lead, the Sixers clawed back and they did so in a hurry. Philadelphia scored the final 13 points of the third quarter, fully erasing the deficit and taking the lead with 12 minutes remaining.
— Philadelphia 76ers (@sixers) August 18, 2020
Headed to the 4th on ESPN pic.twitter.com/evDaw0uhxe
— NBA (@NBA) August 18, 2020
Embiid connected on a three-pointer to open the fourth quarter, giving Philadelphia their largest lead of the evening at 81-75. In short order, however, the Celtics knotted the game at 86-86, setting up for what promised to be a hotly contested stretch run.
In less than a minute, though, the Celtics zoomed ahead, scoring nine straight points with the help of a flagrant-1 foul assessed to Al Horford. When that run came to a close, Boston led by a 92-86 margin, and the pressure swung back to Philadelphia. While the Sixers did stabilize things, the Celtics scored five quick points, capped by a three-pointer from Brown, to grab an eight-point edge with 4:28 to play.
— NBA (@NBA) August 18, 2020
With the help of offensive struggles from the Sixers, Boston increased its advantage to ten points, but Philadelphia wasn’t ready to roll over. The Sixers scored six straight points, slashing the margin to four with two minutes to go and putting the pressure back on Boston. After an errant mid-ranger from Tobias Harris, Kemba Walked poured in a pair of free throws to make it a six-point game but, right on cue, Josh Richardson buried a triple to bring Philly back within 103-100 with a minute remaining.
Tatum and Alec Burks then traded trips to the free throw line, but Burks missed one of his attempts, leaving Boston with a four-point edge and 31.1 seconds to go. After a timeout, Walker calmly made two more free throws, increasing the margin to six with 16.1 seconds left, and another empty trip from Philadelphia essentially ended the competitive portion of the evening.
For Boston, this was a solid showing, especially from Tatum (32 points, 13 rebounds) and Brown (29 points, six rebounds). Unfortunately, the stretch run was marred by a right ankle sprain for Gordon Hayward, putting his status in doubt moving forward, but the Celtics were able to snag the advantage in the series and take care of business as the favorite in a high-profile match-up.