By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
Three days removed from his All-Star snub, Jaylen Brown is doing his best to make voters second guess leaving him off the roster. The fourth-year forward exploded for 32 points Saturday night as the Celtics topped the Sixers 116-95 at TD Garden.
From the jump, Brown looked like the best player on the floor, putting up both numbers and highlights. He hit 13 of his game-high 23 shots, and fell a rebound short of a double-double. While he struggled from deep (1-10 from three), he got into a groove attacking the basket with focus and flair.
On the defensive end of the floor, the Celtics were able to control things in the post despite not having a true center in the rotation, as has been the case during the now five-game absence of Enes Kanter (hip). Once again missing the six-foot-10 Kanter, the Celtics still managed to hold All-Star Joel Embiid to 11 points on 1-11 shooting and just five rebounds (he’s averaging 23 and 12 this season). It was six-foot-six rookie Grant Williams who seemed to get under Embiid’s skin the most, and kept the Sixers center looking for openings in key moments throughout the game.
The ‘Jays’ got things going for the Celtics early. Brown knocked down a pair of jumpers to account for five points on the C’s first two offensive possessions. After a little back-and-forth, Jayson Tatum single handedly ripped off a 9-0 run to give Boston a 16-6 lead at the first commercial break.
The Celtics continued to roll after the break, extending their run to 15-2. 11 of those points came from Tatum, including a one-handed slam right in the face of former Celtic Al Horford.
That wasn’t the end of the Celtics making their presence felt with physicality. In the final minute of the first, Brad Wanamaker got free on a break, throwing down with one hand in close proximity to Joel Embiid. The C’s backup point guard shot the Sixers All-Star a look as he landed, drawing a technical foul. Still, the damage was done as the crowd gave the home team a standing ovation after a 32-19 first quarter.
With Tatum on the bench to start the second quarter, the two sides went back and forth as the Sixers seemed to find their footing. Ben Simmons was able to go to work on the break mid-way through the quarter, forcing Brad Stevens to call a timeout as Philly closed the gap to 10 with 5:15 left until the half.
Simmons continued to give the Celtics problems, posting a team-high 14 first half points. Still, the Celtics went to the locker room up eight at the half, 59-51.
Philadelphia came out of the half ice cold, starting the half 0-9 from the floor. The Celtics weren’t much better knocking down only 2 of 7 shots, but they were able to get to the line and stretch the lead to 16 halfway through the period.
Boston quickly stretched that lead to 20 as they continued to attack former Celtic Al Horford. Brown shook him with a euro step, followed by Marcus Smart beating him on a driving up-and-under layup, forcing another Philly timeout.
Brown however wasn’t done showing off. He followed his play on Horford up with a nifty crossover of Matisse Thybulle, and then a monster two-handed dunk that brought the TD Garden crowd to their feet. His theatrics led the way to a 19 point Celtics lead after three quarters, with Boston up 86-67 heading into the final frame.
While the crowd chanted for Tacko Fall at the start of the fourth quarter, the Sixers cut their deficit to 13 behind seven straight points from Shake Milton. However, a Tatum fadeaway three from the corner over Embiid gave the Celtics the momentum back, as Boston ran the lead right back up to 20 halfway through the fourth. It was all academic from there, with the Celtics stretching the lead to as much as 23. Fall was able to get on the floor for the final two minutes of the game.
The win moves the Celtics to 33-15, which keeps them tied with the Miami Heat for third in the Eastern Conference. Boston has now won three in a row, and six of its last seven.
The Celtics head back on the road Monday for a matchup with the 13-37 Atlanta Hawks. Boston took the only other meeting between the two this season, a 109-106 win for the C’s back on January 3. Tip-off in Atlanta is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Sean Grande and Cedric Maxwell have the call on 98.5 The Sports Hub, with pregame coverage beginning at 7.
Alex Barth is a writer and digital producer for 985TheSportsHub.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of 98.5 The Sports Hub, Beasley Media Group, or any subsidiaries. Thoughts? Comments? Questions? Hate mail? Let him hear it on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com