Horford: Celtics slacked defensively, Embiid was out

Horford: Celtics slacked defensively, Embiid was out

BOSTON — The Boston Celtics missed an opportunity to take control of their Eastern Conference semifinals game against the Philadelphia 76ers, losing Game 1 119-115 in Boston Monday night despite MVP candidate Joel Embiid being sidelined with a sprained right knee .

The Celtics shot 58.7% from the field and picked up 39 points from Jayson 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 carried by James Harden, who amassed 45 points and hit the green 3-pointer with 8.1 seconds left.

“I felt like we started well offensively, but I don’t think there was a sense of urgency defensively,” Celtics center Al Horford said after the game.

“Embiid was 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 everything that happens, whatever the variables. With our team, I just saw that for some reason it happened to us.”

While Tatum said he doesn’t think the Celtics would have underestimated the Sixers without Embiid, he agreed Boston’s intensity on defense wasn’t at the level it needed.

“I think we allow the guys to be a little too comfortable at times,” Tatum said. “We can definitely be better. Sometimes we give too many offensive rebounds and that hurts us, second chances and third chances. It’s just about increasing our pressure and trying to make people uncomfortable… everyone is talented and they feel a little freer out there.”

This is the third time the Celtics and the Sixers have faced each other in the playoffs in the last six seasons, and Boston went 8-1 against Philadelphia in those matchups in that series. However, Celtics coach Joe Mazzulla noted how this year’s Sixers had managed to forge an identity on the court without Embiid, playing faster and spacing the ground while Harden led the offense. Philadelphia has been 12-5 in games Embiid has missed this season.

Still, Boston went into Game 1 as a double-digit favorite and took advantage of Embiid’s absence by attacking the basket and hitting in the paint at will (Boston beat Philly 66-42 indoors).

But in the fourth quarter, the difference was Harden, who beat the duo of Tatum and Jaylen Brown 15-10 in the final third. Tatum’s last shot came at 11:06 in the fourth quarter. Brown’s was at 6:11.

“Take credit from the other guys,” Tatum said while looking at the stat sheet during his post-game press conference. “Harden had 45. Melton hit 5 3s. These other guys showed up and played big and down shots.

“Whatever 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 Malcolm Brogdon turnover on a pass thrown straight at Sixers guard Tyrese Maxey while the shot clock was running down. Tatum said the Celtics thought a shot clock violation was asserted for the game and they didn’t chase Maxey across the court in the transition when he scored a basket with 28.2 seconds left in the fourth to defeat the Sixers to lead.

Though Tatum knocked down two free throws at the other end, it only set the stage for Harden and the Sixers to steal Game 1 in Boston and stun the Celtics, who missed an opportunity.

“I’m not concerned, but I have some awareness,” Brogdon said. “We have to be ready. We must come out ready. We need to come out and send a message at the next game.”

#Horford #Celtics #slacked #defensively #Embiid

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