Sixers vs. Celtics Game 3: Celtics Spoil Embiid's Night
James Harden and Tyrese Maxey’s struggles and more
Adam Aaronson, whose legal name is Sixers Adam (@SixersAdam on Twitter), covers the Sixers for The Rights To Ricky Sanchez. He believes cantaloupe is the best food in existence, and is brought to you by the Official Realtor of The Process, Adam Ksebe.
Emotions ran high at the Wells Fargo Center tonight, as Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semifinals were preceded by Joel Embiid’s NBA MVP ceremony. Embiid’s coronation was an enthralling few minutes, but the Sixers ultimately failed to capitalize on the momentum, falling to the Boston Celtics 114-102.
Not coming away with the win was not for lack of trying on Embiid’s end. His play gradually continues to more resemble the play that earned him the MVP trophy, as his comfort level after returning from his knee injury grew.
Embiid scored 30 points, grabbed 13 rebounds and blocked four shots, once again protecting the rim at an elite level while scoring the ball more consistently than he did in Game 2 in Boston.
“I was better tonight,” Embiid said. “Tonight, obviously I was more assertive.”
The real story tonight was Embiid’s sidekick, James Harden, who made just three of his 14 field goal attempts, committed five turnovers and made a handful of puzzling decisions, particularly passing up several open shots in the rim -- invoking memories of the player the Sixers traded to get him in the first place.
“I just didn’t think we had any pace,” Sixers head coach Doc Rivers said when asked about Harden’s struggles, saying he would “rather watch the game first” before diving into what led to Harden’s poor performance.
After knocking down an early three, Harden failed to score the ball, constantly missing mid-range shots and getting blocked at the rim. After his 45-point Game 1, the Celtics made Jaylen Brown his primary defender, and it’s been effective. While Brown is not generally the same level of defender as Marcus Smart, or even Derrick White, his length and athleticism has been extremely bothersome to Harden, who has put up consecutive stinkers.
Harden’s backcourt mate, Tyrese Maxey, shot 4-16 from the field, including just 1-7 from inside the arc. Maxey was aggressive, but perhaps to a fault -- he was blocked at the rim multiple times, most notably by Robert Williams III.
“I think he’s just got to stay calm and play at a better pace instead of just attacking so fast,” Embiid said of Maxey.
De’Anthony Melton gave the Sixers solid minutes, knocking down four triples and collecting as many steals. But outside of Melton, the Sixers’ depth came up short once again. PJ Tucker knocked down three triples himself, but was otherwise quite damaging to the offense as the Celtics continued to essentially ignore him entirely due to his lack of utility on that end of the floor.
Tobias Harris had back-to-back impressive buckets early on in the game, but soon ran into foul trouble, and it derailed his performance. He only scored one more basket in the game, and only ended up playing 25 minutes.
Georges Niang had a particularly brutal defensive night, as the Celtics made a point to exploit his immobility. He did chip in 10 points, though, including seven straight in the third quarter to help keep the Sixers in the game.
Jalen McDaniels knocked down a corner three and pulled a few rebounds early in the game, but in his second half stint passed up several open shots in possessions that ended with much worse looks.
Embiid and Rivers both implied that the biggest difference in the game was Boston’s ability to nab loose balls and make the right plays in critical situations.
The page, however, must be turned. The Sixers will prepare for a pivotal Game 4 on Sunday afternoon, a game they must win to avoid going back to Boston on the verge of elimination.
“We’ve got to execute better,” Rivers said. “And we’ve got to trust better.”