By Alex Barth, 985TheSportsHub.com
One of the most dominant teams during the NBA’s seeding round, the Boston Celtics kept the momentum going with a 109-101 win over the Philadelphia 76ers in game one of their first-round playoff series.
The Sixers came out the more energized team, but a 10-2 Celtics run tied the game at 14 before the first commercial break. For the rest of the first quarter, it felt like a one-on-one duel between Joel Embiid (11 points) and Jaylen Brown (10 points). After 12 minutes, the Sixers were up 26-25.
Both teams traded baskets early in the second quarter, with neither team leading by more than two until a Daniel Theis fast-break slam put the Celtics up three with six minutes to go. Jayson Tatum followed that up with a make from beyond the arc, giving the Celtics their largest lead of the night to that point and forcing Brett Brown to take a timeout down 41-35 with six minutes to play in the half.
The timeout did nothing to cool Tatum down though, as the Celtics superstar scored seven of the team’s remaining 12 points in the quarter. Tatum had 15 points in the quarter alone, and a game-high 21 points at the half, to go along with eight rebounds. Carried by Tatum’s performance, Boston went into the break up 55-49.
Coming out of the half, the Celtics failed to separate but didn’t lose any ground either, mostly following the continued success of Tatum. There was a scary moment with about eight minutes to go in the period, when Jaylen Brown got tangled up with Joel Embiid and had to leave the game. He would check back in a few minutes later.
Still, the Sixers would close the gap late in the quarter behind strong play from Embiid and Al Horford. They took the lead with two minutes to go, with the Celtics not scoring for the final four minutes of the frame. Philly lead 79-75, their largest lead of the night to that point, entering the final frame.
Early in the quarter, the Sixer lead got as big as six. But Jaylen Brown, shaking off the stinger to his leg, stepped up by hitting three to end the Celtics scoring drought, and another a few minutes later to tie the game at 86-86.
Brown continued his strong play into the fourth, scoring 12 of the Celtics’ first 17 points in the period, including drawing a flagrant foul on Horford. Most of that came during an 11-1 Celtics run.
While the Celtics held the lead for the rest of the game, the Sixers closed the gap late. It took Boston hitting eight free throws in the final 1:17 to lock things up.
The ending was somewhat shadowed by Gordon Hayward leaving the game late, limping off the floor with the help of Celtics trainers. According to the team, Hayward suffered a sprained right ankle, which is not the ankle he broke in his Celtics debut in 2017. Celtics head coach Brad Stevens didn’t have an update on the severity Hayward’s injury after the game.
Behind his monster first half, Tatum led the Celtics with a game-high and career-high 32 points, adding 13 rebounds for a double-double. Brown was right behind him with 29 points. The duo are the first Celtics teammates 23-years-old or younger to both score 25-plus points in a playoff game.
Meanwhile Kemba Walker, now off of his minutes restriction, scored 19 points in 34:41 on the floor. Hayward contributed 12 points before leaving, with a team-best four steals as well.
Embiid was far from quiet for Philadelphia with 26 points and 16 rebounds, but he was a -6 and didn’t have much help. Former Celtic Al Horford scored just six points on 3-of-7 shooting and posted a game-worst -18.
With the win, the Celtics take a 1-0 lead in the series. The two teams meet again on Wednesday, with tip scheduled for 6:30 p.m. For everything you need to know leading up game two, make sure to check back in with 985TheSportsHub.com.
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? Looking for a podcast guest? Let him know on Twitter @RealAlexBarth or via email at Alexander.Barth@bbgi.com