Derrick White, short-handed Celtics pull away from Sixers late: 10 takeaways


The Celtics are back in first place after an impressive win.

Celtics Sixers
The Celtics took on the Sixers in Philadelphia on Wednesday. Photo by Tim Nwachukwu/Getty Images

The Celtics beat the Sixers 117-107 Wednesday in an impressive victory with both Jaylen Brown and Kristaps Porzingis on the bench.

Here are the takeaways.

1. Other players had bigger nights, but whenever the Celtics beat the Sixers, it feels appropriate to start with Al Horford who remains perhaps the most enraging part of the Celtics-Sixers rivalry for Philadelphia fans. Sixers star Joel Embiid looked grumpy and disengaged throughout the game, and against Horford, that sets him up to fail since Horford knows his tricks very well at this point and is less likely to be baited into fouling.

Limiting Embiid to 20 points and four free throws wasn’t Horford’s only contribution (although it was obviously a big one). Horford was a menace around the rim, snuffing out possessions against multiple Sixers attackers. He also had an enormous stretch in the third quarter, burying three straight triples against a Sixers defense that collapsed with shocking easy and left a number of Celtics shooters wide open. That stretch by Horford pushed the Celtics back into the lead at a time when the game could have swung either direction.

Horford enjoys playing against Sixers fans. At one point, he turned and grinned at fans in the front row after burying a 3-pointer.

“I just love it man,” Horford told reporters afterward. “When you hear that talking, it just gives you a little extra. So I appreciate them.”

If the Celtics match up with the Sixers in the playoffs, one has to assume that Horford will start. Of course, starting Horford isn’t an easy decision because it means someone needs to go to the bench, and one of the most likely candidates is the next player we are about to discuss.

2. Derrick White was excellent. On a night when Brown and Porzingis were out, the Celtics needed someone to step and provide a little bit of everything. Fortunately for the Celtics, they have a couple of players equipped to do that, and perhaps none of them are better at it than White, who finished with 27 points, three rebounds and five assists.

White attacked the Sixers in a number of different ways. He shot 4-for-8 from 3-point range. He got to the free-throw line 10 times and made nine of them. He knocked down a couple of floaters. He broke down the defense and jumpstarted ball movement. He found teammates in transition.

The Sixers don’t have great guard defenders for White or Holiday, especially when their better defenders are occupied with Jayson Tatum. That, of course, is a problem they share with the rest of the NBA.

3. In his postgame interview with ESPN, White nicely summed up the cognitive dissonance of being a father on a work trip (especially the father of a newborn).

“It’s going to be nice to get some sleep on this road [trip],” White said. “But I miss them.”

4. In our continued documentation of Celtics assistant coach Matt Reynolds’ streak of successful challenges, his work at the 1:08 mark of the fourth quarter was one of his best this year. Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey appeared to draw three free throws flailing as Jrue Holiday went by, but Holiday hit the ball and didn’t appear to touch Maxey. To make matters better for the Celtics, Derrick White grabbed the rebound off Maxey’s airball, so the Celtics prevented three free throws and got the ball back. Tatum tipped in his own miss on the ensuing possession, and the Celtics wrested full control of the game away from the Sixers.

5. The Celtics were not only without Brown and Porzingis, Tatum had a relatively lackluster game as a scorer. He led the team in scoring with 29 points, but he was 10-for-23 from the floor.

Still, Tatum finished with six assists. The Sixers sent him a lot of attention, and he handled it really well, especially down the stretch.

6. The Celtics’ drive-and-kick game is a great way to neutralize the defensive effect of Embiid. By getting all the way to the rim, they can either score the layup or engage Embiid and kick the ball out to whoever is open. If that player is Embiid’s defensive charge, it will likely be Horford or Porzingis, both of whom are shooters the Celtics feel very comfortable with.

Before the game, Nick Nurse said the Sixers wanted to limit the Celtics’ 3-pointers. The Celtics finished 18-for-50 behind the arc.

7. Tyrese Maxey finished with 20 points on 6-for-15 shooting. If these teams meet in the playoffs, he will certainly have some big games, but he will have to work for his points against White and — especially — Holiday.

8. The Celtics took a 15-point lead in the first quarter bolstered by their bench, who have been doing their job well for a few weeks after a shaky start. Luke Kornet struggled to defend in space but punished the Sixers with a couple of key put-backs late and dropped nine points to go with six boards. Svi Mykhialiuk knocked down a 3-pointer and finished with five points. Sam Hauser was in the starting lineup, but he hit a pair of threes and held his own.

The Sixers’ bench, meanwhile, was even better in the second quarter — leading the charge as they erased the deficit and took a one-point lead into halftime. Jaden Springer in particular looks like a nice prospect on both ends. Without a better game from their stars, however, the Sixers’ bench was merely a nice side note.

9. Embiid has always been pretty candid about the rivalry against the Celtics. That continued on Wednesday.

The Sixers are a good team, but even though the Celtics are 1-1 against them, we’ve seen very little to suggest the dynamic of the rivalry has changed this season so far.

10. The Celtics will now travel to Toronto to take on the Raptors in their second game of the in-season tournament on Friday. They wrap up their road trip with a back-to-back against the Grizzlies and Hornets on Sunday and Monday.