The second quarter of Wednesday night’s Celtics-Sixers game resembled how the frame unfolded when these two teams met at Wells Fargo Center last week.
Again, the hosts played with more energy than their visitors and feasted off Boston’s mistakes. Philadelphia parlayed six giveaways by their opposition into nine of the 36 points they hung on the Celtics in the final 12 minutes before halftime. Those turnovers also fed into the latter’s putting only 20 on the board, losing the 15-point advantage it built entering the period.
But in the second half, Boston, playing without Jaylen Brown (non-Covid illness) and Kristaps Porzingis (right knee contusion), seized control of the matchup.
Head coach Joe Mazzulla pointed to the Celtics doing a better job of “taking their hustle plays away,” stating, “In the first half, it was mostly offensive rebounds and turnovers…I thought we cleaned up both of those,” allowing them to manage the game better.
His team committed only three giveaways in the last 24 minutes and did an excellent job staying in front of drives and contesting shots, limiting the 76ers to 4/13 (30.8 percent) from beyond the arc.
Al Horford, who finished with 14 points, made 4/8 threes, grabbed eight rebounds, and had a game-high five blocks, held Joel Embiid to 12 points on eight shots after halftime — with the help of timely dig downs and double teams.
And the visitors played outstanding defense, especially in the final 5:30.
Count the bucket +1️⃣ pic.twitter.com/bhQM3R9Sq7
— Boston Celtics (@celtics) November 16, 2023
A prime example came when Tyrese Maxey finally got the switch he wanted, targeting Sam Hauser. But with Jrue Holiday staying close, Tobias Harris cut to the rim. Horford rotated to pick him up, and Derrick White sank to the corner to get Embiid.
As the latter drove, the former Colorado Buffalo and Jayson Tatum converged on him. White stripped the ball free, leading to a strong finish through contact by Tatum at the other end. He then tacked on the free throw to complete the old-school three-point play, giving his team a 102-98 lead with 5:10 left.
“I thought our weak-side activity wasn’t great in the first half,” Mazzulla told Inside The Celtics while discussing what sparked their defensive turnaround in the second half. “I thought the biggest adjustment we made defensively was our weak-side activity. And so, we were just activating. And the most important thing when you’re on the weak side is you have to be ready to do something, and we did that on a couple of possessions, and we were able to get stops.”
Those stops were at the heart of Boston outscoring Philadelphia 60-49 after halftime and 15-9 in the game’s last five minutes. They allowed the visitors to play with pace, maintaining a tempo that resulted in improved ball movement, assisting on 12/20 field goals, and more success from beyond the arc, burying 11/27 (40.7 percent) of their attempts from three-point range. Another critical adjustment was crashing the offensive glass more in the final two frames, a decision that translated to matching the 76ers in offensive rebounds (six) and second-chance points (eight).
Those changes in energy, activity, and tactics are why the shorthanded Celtics earned a 117-107 road win in Wednesday’s rivalry clash, reclaiming the top seed in the Eastern Conference.