The opening game of this series showed what the 76ers could be. The second revealed what they are. And in the third game, they returned to show their potential, but not enough to win a championship.
As much as they upgraded their personnel last season and at the trade deadline, these Sixers still had no idea which version of their team would emerge in the big moment. It really reared its head in a 114-102 loss to the Boston Celtics Friday night at the Wells Fargo Center. They were booed by the sold out crowd at the conclusion of Game 3 of the best-of-seven Eastern Conference Semifinal series, as Boston regained the home court advantage.
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Sixers quarterback Joel Embiid said, “For us to win, and I’ve said that all season, I’ve said we have to be almost perfect in order to win.” We don’t have much margin of error. Everyone has to show up and do their jobs, and that starts with me.”
With Embiid receiving the MVP trophy prior to the game, the Sixers had momentum that could have been carried over to a 2-1 series advantage. Instead, they head to Game 4 on Sunday at 3:30 p.m., also at home. The odds are not in the Sixers’ favor as 79% of the conference semifinal winners in Game 3 have gone on to win the series. But the Sixers still had hope. They know firsthand how a chain can change.
They lost the second round series to the Atlanta Hawks in 2021 and the Toronto Raptors in 2019 after going 2-1. The Sixers lost Games 4 and 5 in both series. So the key is to play better than they did on Friday night. And it all starts with James Harden.
The Sixers didn’t look like the man who set the Celtics on fire for 45 points in Game 1. Harden finished with 16 points, 11 assists, six rebounds and five turnovers. The 33-year-old appeared sluggish and at times unsure of himself.
Harden’s lack of speed was notable because he couldn’t keep up with the Celtics. He even missed some shooting opportunities. The 10-time All-Star hit only 3 in 14 shots. He shoots 5-for-28 in Matches 2 and 3.
“I don’t know,” Harden said when asked if he could take a few shots, dead inside the paint. “I got to watch the game. But I’m very good with my basketball instincts. I know when to score and I know when to win. So I’m sure a lot of them were the right plays.”
Was there anything the Celtics did to influence their style of play?
Harden said, “No.
Read more: Joel Embiid accepts the MVP trophy in front of Sixers fans at the Wells Fargo Center
But Embiid has an idea of how to help his team mate after his recent struggles.
“You just talk to him, tell him to keep shooting, to be aggressive,” Embiid said. “That’s why you can’t go too high, and you can’t go too low. Some nights you’re going to take a lot of shots, a lot of hard shots. Some nights you won’t make it. So it’s about finding other ways to influence the game.”
Tyrese Maxey also needs to play better for the Sixers to have any chance of winning this Series. He had 13 points on 4-for-16 shooting with six rebounds and two blocks.
PJ Tucker played with determination on his 38th birthday, a day when he was mourning the loss of his mentor, Lance Blanks, a former NBA player and CEO who passed away at the age of 56. Tucker scored nine points while making a career-high three three-pointers in season. Tobias Harris finished with seven points going 3-for-6. George Nyang’s 10 points were highlighted by two of his three-pointers in the second half. DeAnthony Milton was clutch, finishing with four steals and one block for 14 points and eight rebounds.
But for most of the night, the Sixers got a solid performance from Embiid and not much else. The newly minted MVP finished with game highs of 30 points, 13 rebounds and four blocks.
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However, the Sixers were only up 100-96 after Embiid fell behind with 3 minutes, 51 seconds remaining. But former Sixer Horford responded with a three-pointer on the ensuing possession to extend the Celtics’ lead to seven points after 26 seconds.
The poor shooting and inability to get shots in time was hard to overcome. The Sixers shot well from the foul line, making 24 of 27. However, they only shot 39.7% from the field.
Harden said, “We didn’t play well in attack. Simple.”
While Embiid was elated at taking home the Player of the Year award, a victory would have made his night even better.
He said: “It’s hard for me to sit here and think about winning this when you’re down 2-1, and you’re just trying to find ways you can help win games, trying to get your teammates in.
“I think that’s the next step for me just to help everybody out. … I have to make the right plays. I think I do, but I can’t shoot them. So we all have to be on the same page. To win we have to be perfect.” almost “.
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