Al Horford – Celtics lack defensive urgency vs. 76 Embiid players

Jamal CollierESPN3 minutes to read

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics missed a chance to dominate their Eastern Conference Semifinal game against the Philadelphia 76ers, losing Game 1 in Boston Monday night 119-115 despite league MVP candidate Joel Embiid being sidelined with a sprained right knee.

The Celtics shot 58.7% from the field and had 39 points off Jason Tatum, but Boston couldn’t match the same intensity on the defensive end, allowing Philadelphia to shoot 50.6% from the field. The Sixers were also put up by James Harden, who put up 45 points and hit a green-pointer 3 with 8.1 seconds remaining.

“I felt like we started off really well offensively, but I don’t think there was a sense of urgency on the defensive side,” Celtics quarterback Al Horford said after the game.

“Embiid going out tonight, as much as you want to say it wasn’t a factor, I think it was. We have to be better. We have to understand that we have to be able to play with whatever happens, whatever the variables are. With our team, I just saw that This happens to us for any reason.”

While Tatum said he didn’t think the Celtics underestimated the Sixers without Embiid, he agreed Boston’s intensity on defense wasn’t quite as good as it needed to be.

“I think we allow guys to be a little relaxed sometimes,” said Tatum. “We can definitely be better. Sometimes we give a lot of offensive rebounds and it hurts us, second and third chance chances. It’s all about raising our pressure and trying to make people uncomfortable… Everyone is talented and it feels a little bit freer there.”

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This is the third time the Celtics and Sixers have faced each other in the playoffs in the past six seasons, and Boston entered that series 8-1 against Philadelphia in those games. However, Celtics coach Joe Mazzola noted how this year the Sixers managed to forge Don Embiid’s identity on the field, playing faster and spacing the floor with Harden running the offense. Philadelphia has been 12-5 in the games Embiid has missed this season.

However, Boston entered Game 1 as a double-digit favorite and took advantage of Embiid’s absence by attacking the basket and scoring in the paint at will (Boston outgained Philly 66-42 inside).

But in the fourth quarter, the difference was Harden, who outscored the duo of Tatum and Jaylen Brown 15-10 during the final period. Tatum’s final basket came with 11:06 remaining in the fourth quarter. Brown was at 6:11.

“Give the other guys credit,” Tatum said, while looking at the stat sheet during his post-game press conference. Harden had 45. Milton hit 5 3s. Those other guys stepped up and played big shots and knocked down putts.

“No matter the circumstances, you want to win, and we haven’t done enough to win. Every game you lose is a missed opportunity to win.”

The Celtics lost the lead down the stretch after a turnover by Malcolm Brogdon on a pass thrown directly to Sixers guard Therese Maxey as the shot clock expired. The Celtics thought a shot clock violation was called on the play and didn’t chase Maxie down the court with a transition, Tatum said, as he scored a basket with 28.2 seconds remaining in the fourth to put the Sixers ahead.

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Although Tatum knocked down a pair of free throws on the other end, it set the stage for Harden and the Sixers to steal Game 1 in Boston and stun the Celtics, who let an opportunity slip away.

“I’m not worried, but I have a level of awareness,” Brogdon said. “We have to be ready. We have to go out prepared. We have to go out and send a message in the next game.”

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