Celtics fall into old habits again in loss to Sixers: 10 takeaways

Celtics

A late rally wasn’t enough, which is a familiar story.

Celtics 76ers
Philadelphia 76ers’ Tyrese Maxey goes up for a shot against Boston Celtics’ Al Horford. AP Photo/Matt Slocum

The Celtics dropped their second game in a row on Wednesday, falling to the Philadelphia 76ers 106-103 in a chaotic finish.

Here are the takeaways.

1. With the 76ers leading 104-90 and just under two minutes remaining, Jaylen Brown hit a 3-pointer.

The shot was somewhat noteworthy, if for no other reason than it broke a nightmarish streak of missed shots and turnovers for Brown, who struggled mightily until the final minutes of the fourth. It also may have mildly piqued the interest of Celtics fans on the verge of changing the channel.

On the next possession, Kristaps Porzingis hooked in a two and was fouled. He made the free throw. The lead was down to eight.

The Celtics had a chance, but they needed to be perfect, which was a familiar refrain. Last year’s team always seemed to have a late-game push that often seemed to come up just short.

This year’s team found itself in the same position. The Sixers combusted down the stretch, scoring only two points in the final 2:26 of the game, and impossibly, the Celtics found themselves down just three on the final possession. The Sixers gave up a wide-open look to Porzingis in the closing seconds, but the shot grazed the front rim, and the game was over.

The Celtics needed to be perfect down the stretch to have a chance, and perfection required Porzingis to make that shot. As the Celtics learned repeatedly last year, perfection down the stretch to make up for previous mistakes is not a reasonable game plan.

2. The Sixers looked harder to defend with Tyrese Maxey in place of James Harden — a lightning-fast guard flying up and down the floor looking for transition baskets, flipping in floaters, and firing 3-pointers out of the pick-and-roll from 28 feet. If Maxey can’t find offense, the Sixers have a great half-court option in Joel Embiid.

Maxey was inefficient on Wednesday, scoring 25 points on 11-for-27 shooting, but his style of play might fit the Sixers better in the long run. Harden might be a system, but if he is, Tyrese Maxey might be a better one.

3. Fresh off watching Jrue Holiday frustrate Karl-Anthony Towns (and Julius Randle in the season opener), Joe Mazzulla tried his luck with Holiday on Embiid to start the game. With the exception of one monstrous dunk, Embiid missed a couple of shots early, coughed the ball up, and generally looked puzzled by the smaller defender.

The good news is that yes, Jrue Holiday is a phenomenal defender. The bad news for the Celtics, at least early in the year while his legs are still underneath him, their solutions for Embiid other than Holiday don’t look particularly good. Porzingis in particular couldn’t do much about the Sixers’ star, which was to be expected in theory but still looked ugly at times in practice. Embiid finished with 27 points and 10 rebounds.

4. The biggest issue for the Celtics was a tough performance by their two stars. Jayson Tatum dropped 16 points on 6-for-14 shooting, and while he pulled down 15 rebounds, he never looked particularly dynamic on the offensive end.

Brown, meanwhile, redeemed himself a bit late with a pair of 3-pointers and a block on Maxey that gave the Celtics a chance in the final seconds, but before that, he had his worst game of the season. Brown missed his first five 3-pointers and wracked up four turnovers. The ugliest came with 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter when he tried to dribble through pressure in the backcourt and got the ball poked away from behind. The entire sequence had a feeling of inevitability as soon as it became clear Brown was intent on breaking the pressure himself.

If either of the Celtics’ best players could have cracked the code against the Sixers, Wednesday probably would have looked a lot different.

5. Al Horford was 1-for-6 from deep. Derrick White was 3-for-11. Brown was 2-for-7. Tatum and Porzingis were 2-for-6. Payton Pritchard was 0-for-2. The 3-point shooting was bad despite a number of good looks, and the Celtics stayed alive in part because the Sixers were somehow worse at 9-for-34 (26.5 percent).

6. Porzingis had a nice offensive game, dropping a team-high 29 points thanks in part to eight free-throw attempts. The Celtics did a better job of involving him in the offense than they did against the Timberwolves, which was a small bright spot on an evening when their regular stars couldn’t meet expectations.

What went wrong on the final shot?

“As I went into the shot, I went into it as if it was a midrange shot and jumped higher,” Porzingis told reporters. “I don’t usually do that.”

7. Was Embiid standing on the baseline here after he grabbed the rebound? It looked close.

The Celtics, of course, can’t reasonably use this as lifeline — once again, relying on perfection won’t get you far. But one last bite at the apple might have been interesting to watch.

8. The Celtics missed Derrick White in the lineup against the Timberwolves, and he scored 19 points on 18 shots in his first game back after the birth his child. White’s offensive growth has been fascinating — the Celtics have told him over and over to be aggressive and look for his shot, and it’s easy to see why when he crashes into Embiid, maintains his balance and finishes off glass over the gigantic shot blocker.

9. If it wasn’t for Holiday (2-for-3) and Sam Hauser (3-for-6), the Celtics’ 3-point numbers would look even more disastrous. Hauser’s emergence from his early struggles is a positive after two tough losses. Getting some bench production — especially as Pritchard’s struggles continue — would be a big boost.

10. The Celtics have a busy weekend. They start their in-season tournament action on Friday when they face the Nets at TD Garden, then face the Raptors the next night at home again before the Knicks arrive in Boston for a game on Monday.


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