By Sean Sylver, 98.5 The Sports Hub
In August, Boston swept Philly in the first round as Ben Simmons sat in street clothes. Wednesday night, it was Jayson Tatum sidelined against the 76ers following his bout with COVID-19. The result was a 117-109 win for the bad guys.
Joel Embiid – who averaged 30 points and 12 rebounds in the August series – tallied 42 points in Wednesday’s matchup, his career-high against the Celtics. The outburst was aided by 21 free throw attempts (of which Embiid made 17).
“He shot – alone, himself – 21 free throws. Our team shot 20. Can’t beat that,” Marcus Smart stated bluntly.
Boston also faced a 17-0 free throw disparity in the fourth quarter.
So was it a RAngle? Were the 76ers just that much more aggressive? What gives?
“I think it was a frustrating defensive game for us, but we have to do a better job without fouling,” Danny Ainge told Toucher and Rich the morning after.
Embiid’s entitled comments after the contest didn’t do anything to dilute fans’ distaste for the two-time All-NBA pivot man’s antics.
“Marcus Smart just told me that I flail a lot? Come on.”
“The game is physical. Other teams tend to try to be extra physical against me. And I guess I’m just smarter than everybody else. I just take advantage of it…you can call that – I don’t know – Basketball IQ. Like, if you’re going to put your hand up there, I’m gonna…get to the free throw line.”
Jared Weiss over at The Athletic did a great job painting Embiid as a modern Shaq: just too big to be contained. However, unlike the brick-tossing Hall of Famer, the Sixers center invites trips to the charity stripe to pad his stats.
“I think Marcus felt like he got frustrated because Joel Embiid does kind of the James Harden move where you stick your arms out and you draw contact,” Ainge reflected. “I’m not blaming those guys that are good at it. They’re just seeking fouls; they’re not trying to make a shot.”
Guess who’s back?
Kemba Walker didn’t look great in a 30-point loss to the Knicks on Sunday. But he looked more like himself Wednesday night. While he made just six of 15 field goal attempts, he buried 5-of-9 from behind the arc en route to 19 points and six assists in just 22 minutes of play. It was a step in the right direction for the All-Star guard.
“He’s put so much time in and worked really hard,” Ainge told the morning show. “We want to make sure that we have him for the long haul and we just want to limit the risk.”
Brad Stevens kept Walker stapled to the bench for most of the third quarter against Philly to keep his minutes down. But the coach did note that his court time will start to creep upward, starting with Friday night’s contest.
Another tidbit on Kemba: five of his assists Wednesday went to Daniel Theis, who tallied a career-high 23 points.
For the second consecutive season, Robert Williams III appeared poised for a breakout, then hit a bump in the road.
Last year, a hip injury and the pandemic limited the Time Lord to 29 regular season games. This year, it’s a positive test for COVID-19. And as the third-year big man struggled with his own health and well-being, he was also hit with the mental blow of positive diagnoses for several family members.
Ainge has lined up veteran pivot options each of the last two seasons to support Daniel Theis as Williams gets his sea legs on what will hopefully be a long and productive NBA career. Last year, it was Enes Kanter. This year: Tristan Thompson, who racked up five fouls trying to contain Embiid on Wednesday.
The hope is that Williams can get back into the mix soon and continue his upward trajectory.
“He won’t be asked to play a ton of minutes after being inactive for 14 days and dealing with that and trying to come back,” Stevens told Zolak & Bertrand.
We’re rooting for the guy, and not just because he has a fun nickname and old Sports Hub colleague Mason Sousa once called him the next Hakeem Olajuwon. His per-36 numbers of 14.8 points (on 77 percent shooting!), 14.3 rebounds, 3.3 blocks and 2.5 steals are tantalizing. But his health and that of those around him obviously comes first.
Coming Up Next…
The rematch with the 76ers tips off at 7:30 tonight on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Jayson Tatum is not expected to play.
Amid a rash of league wide schedule changes, Monday night’s game in Chicago has also been pushed to a 9 p.m. ET start time.
Sean Sylver can be heard on 98.5 The Sports Hub. Talk hoops with him on Twitter @TheSylverFox.