The 2023 playoffs has been fun, and many would say it’s among the best over the last decade, possibly longer. What’s good is we’re not even halfway into it, so we don’t know how intense it can get. Hopefully, the action just goes on and on, game after game.
The series between the no. 2 seed Boston Celtics and no. 3 Philadelphia 76ers are part of the reason why. It has layers of storylines, like Joel Embiid itching to finally win a series against the Celtics, a familiar foe that has been getting the best of him ever since he stepped into the league.
Three games into it, though, emotions have been up-and-down. Let’s quickly go through the series:
Joel missed Game 1 due to a sprained right knee, but they won, 119-115, courtesy of a superb performance from his co-star James Harden, who tied a playoff career-high 45 points and sunk an eventual game-winning three-pointer.
Then, in Game 2, with momentum running high and Embiid just announced as the 2022-23 league MVP, the star big man returned to the floor… and went on to play horribly. He could only muster 15 points, three rebounds, and three assists in 27 minutes of play as an angry Celtics team just smoked Philly, 121-87. The Sixers shot just 39.2%, including a rough 6-for-30 from downtown.
Still, things felt fine. Embiid wasn’t 100%, it was an off-night for the team, and in certain situations, it’s just impossible to match the home team’s energy. It didn’t help that it only took two Celtic bench players to outscore the entire Sixer bench.
Nevertheless, in came Game 3 this Saturday. There was a jolt of emotion yet again as Embiid got his shine as the MVP, receiving the prestigious hardwood in front of the Philadelphia crowd. He even shared a great moment with his son.
The Sixers had a good start and ended the opening frame up by a point, 29-28. Unfortunately, it was flipped after that as Boston took command en route to a 112-100 win and a 2-1 series lead. The Celtics not only spoiled Embiid’s night, they also reclaimed home court advantage.
One of the key turns in the game when the Celtic lead was only four with just 3:25 remaining in the game. While the Sixers and their fans were into it, Al Horford of all people, suddenly buried a three to push it back to seven. The 37-year-old, as you may know, isn’t popular in Philadelphia due to his terrible tenure there in the 2019-20 season. On Saturday, he pissed them off again by going for 17 points and 5-for-7 from three.
A couple of plays after that, Jayson Tatum proceeded to hit a stepback three-pointer for the dagger.
Embiid was there, Harden and Maxey felt like they weren’t
One lone star producing ultimately won’t be enough, especially in today’s game, and that’s exactly what we saw on Game 3. Joel did the usual with 30 points, 13 rebounds, and four blocked shots, but was left alone by his partners in crime: James Harden and Tyrese Maxey.
Harden, in particular, has been very off after his masterful Game 1. He’s now a woeful 5-for-28 from the floor through Games 2 and 3, a complete 180° that’s just tough to watch. In fact, in Game 3, he was left without a field goal from the 8:38 mark of the first quarter up to 4:36 of the final period.
Maxey has also been quiet after a very good opener. He shot 4-for-16 for 13 points on Saturday, which was on-brand for the season-long struggles he’s had against the Celtics.
Are the Sixers in danger?
I’d say they are in a bit of a danger, and I’d be very glad to be proven wrong. It’s just that when you look at it: the Celtics have a pair of big-time scorers in Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, and around that duo are spot-up shooters. Then, they also have home court advantage back on their lap, which is on top of the confidence they have over the Sixers – all rooted from their success over them throughout the years.
Philly, on the other hand, came in to Game 3 with a lot of energy, and all it did was one good quarter and a mild late-game run.