There’s nothing like a stop in Philadelphia these days to squelch the vibes of a team feeling a little too good about itself.
The Celtics coasted in on a season-high three-game winning streak and needed a AAA tow by the end of Friday night’s111-99 loss to the Sixers — one of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference and clearly a group in a more exclusive category than their visitors.
Knocked to the floor from the beginning by a 28-2 first-quarter run by the Sixers, the Celtics never truly challenged the rest of the way. Jayson Tatum (20 points) and Jaylen Brown (21) both got going offensively in the second half, but also combined for 12 turnovers — the more telling number in light of the 20 turnovers piled up by the Celtics.
Though Joel Embiid (25 points) was held under 30 points for the first time in nine games — he’s tied with Wilt Chamberlain for the longest 30-plus scoring streak in franchise history — the feat was of little merit from a Celtics perspective.
The Celtics cut a 20-point Sixers halftime lead to 17 (83-66) by the end of the third quarter, with Brown and Tatum each assisting on a pair of Robert Williams finishes. But after falling into that first-half hole, it took everything the Celtics had to even pull that close.
And with nine minutes left, and a Saturday game at home against the conference-leading Chicago Bulls, Ime Udoka pulled his regulars.
The Celtics were immediately flattened by the 28-2 first-quarter Sixers run — fueled by eight C’s turnovers over the first 12 minutes — and barely came back well enough to cut the Philly lead to 20 points (55-35) by halftime. Tatum and Brown had five and seven points, respectively, with each player 2-for-10 from the floor. Tatum also had six of the Celtics’ 11 turnovers.
The Sixers got a third-quarter boost when Matisse Thybulle was pushed from behind by Dennis Schroder while dunking off the break — the play was ruled a Flagrant 1 foul — and then hit a 3-pointer after missing both of his free throws — all-told for a 67-45 Philly lead.
After crawling through the first half offensively, though, the Celtics at least picked up the pace in the third, with Tatum and Brown both more focused on finishing at the rim, cutting the Sixers edge to 17 points (83-66) by the end of the quarter.
After taking an early, flimsy six-point lead undone by five early turnovers, Embiid kicked off the massive Philadelphia run that included, at one point, four straight 3-pointers and a lot of Celtics sloppiness. They went from a 10-4 lead to, by the end of the marathon burst, a 32-12 Philly lead that Payton Pritchard trimmed to 32-14 on the last score of the quarter. The Celtics finished the quarter with eight turnovers and 33% shooting.
They continued to throw the ball away — Tatum had two early in the second quarter — and Philly continued to toy with building its 20-point lead. Three Celtics 3-pointers, two from Pritchard, merely kept them from sliding further back.
Brown’s 3 with 3:10 left in the half cut the Sixers edge to 48-32, but the Sixers uncorked a late 7-0 run, and waltzed into halftime with a 55-35 lead.
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