Jayson Tatum let the Sixers know he’d be putting up a legendary performance ahead of game two. Apparently, they didn’t get the memo.
Game 1 may have been closer than the Green Teamers would have expected. It would not have surprised many if the Sixers had come out strong in Game 2 after the Celtics lost Gordon Hayward. Losing an all-star caliber forward who played 33.5 MPG in the regular season was not ideal after their first playoff game. This could prove to be a tall task for Brad Stevens and the Celtics’ bench, but they were ready for the challenge. Coach Stevens inserted Marcus Smart into the starting lineup with Hayward out. Smart had the most “Marcus Smart” Game 1, producing two points on 0/5 shooting (0/3 3PA) and two steals. He bounced back with 10/4/2 in 30 minutes on the floor but still struggled shooting (3-11 & 1-7 3PA).
Hayward’s absence should have affected Tatum the most. There’s no one on the bench who could come close to replacing the offensive threat Hayward could be. The loss would allow the Sixers to double-team Tatum more frequently to prevent him from catching rhythm. Philadelphia replaced Al Horford with Matisse Thybulle in the starting lineup, who is arguably their best defensive player. The 76ers acquired Thybulle in the 2019 draft from none other than the Boston Celtics, who drafted him 20th overall. But not even their best defensive player could not stop Tatum. Thybulle finished the night with two points and a team-low –30.
Philadelphia did get off to a strong start in the first quarter. Embiid was unstoppable in the paint and the Celtics struggled on both ends of the floor. Boston got off to a 4/14 start while the Sixers made 11 of their first 13 shots. The 76ers dominated the first six minutes and built a commanding 25-11 lead. Tatum picked up two quick personal fouls, but Stevens kept him with hopes that he’d spark a run. The risky move played well in their favor. The Celtics countered with a 18-8 run to finish the quarter and cut the lead to 6. Seven of those points came from Jaylen Brown and six from Tatum, including his near half-hour bank shot. The Celtics recaptured the lead early in the 2nd quarter and never looked back.
Jayson Tatum once again proved why he should be considered one of the best players in the league. His 33 points were a career-high, breaking his previous record of 32 set in the previous game. Tatum shot 12-20 and added five rebounds and an assist. He was a team-high +29 for the night. He was nearly unstoppable from behind the arch, making 8 of his 12 three-point attempts. Tatum is the third player in Celtics history to make at least eight 3-pointers in a playoff game. He was one shy of tying Ray Allen’s team record of nine.
Kemba Walker and Jaylen Brown were also dominant, although Brown was not as efficient shooting the three compared to Game One (2/7 compared to 5/8), but he still scored 20 points and was +10. Walker successfully ran the pick-and-roll all night, producing 22 points on 8-16 shooting. Kemba also struggled shooting the three, only making 1-6.
The Celtics’ bench stepped up in Hayward’s absence to fill his minutes. Langford and Wanamaker both played 23 (+26 and +28) and Grant Williams played 21 (+13). The three played a combined 12 minutes in game one. Enes Kanter leads the bench in scoring with 10 points and 9 rebounds (+24)
Embiid has been the only bright spot for Philadelphia. The 2020 All-Star has averaged 30 points and 13 rebounds in the series. Kanter and Theis are no match for Embiid and he will continue to put up big numbers throughout the series. However, the Celtics have too much firepower for him to carry Philadelphia by himself. If they want any chance at coming back into the series, Tobias Harris and Al Horford both need to step up. Harris is shooting 30% (10-30) while averaging 14 PPG. He has struggled to make easy shots in the paint and was a –21 in game 2. “Average Al” is only averaging 5 PPG (42 FG%) on 27 MPG and has been a liability on defense. The series is certainly not over, but the 76ers need more out of the $289 million men if they want to have a chance.