Celtics start strong, finish strong in Game 3 to beat 76ers

On the night Joel Embiid officially received the MVP trophy in front of Philadelphia fans at the Wells Fargo Center, it was the Celtics who acted as a team to pull off a gutsy Game 3 victory and regain home-court advantage in the series.

Basketball is a five-a-side sport, but sometimes it can feel like a relay race with players taking over for 3-5 minutes. Patched together for a full-48 and you could escape a hostile environment with the W.

“It’s the playoffs and we’re playing against a great team,” head coach Joe Mazzulla said of his team’s balanced approach to Game 3.

“It comes down to managing expectations. It’s just to win the game, weather the storms, weather the adversity. Every possession is a turn and an opportunity. Our only expectation is to win at the end of the game.

For starters, it was Jaylen Brown. After James Harden scored 45 points and almost single-handedly won Game 1 without Embiid, Brown embraced the game and since then has only made 5 of his last 28 shots with Brown as his primary defenseman.

“It started with Jaylen. Jaylen picked up Harden, made it difficult for him the last two games. It really changed the whole series,” Malcolm Brogdon said.

Brown scored just two points in the first quarter — an uncommon outing after leading the team in the early points of the frame before the All-Star break — but was glued to Harden all night. It is not yet known if Brown accompanied The Beard to Vegas before the series.

“He’s doing a great job and we’re following him, not just on the offensive end but also on the defensive end,” Al Horford said of Brown’s initial intensity. “He’s playing at a very high level right now.”

In the second, Brown regained his score with nine in the quarter, but it looked like those twelve minutes belonged to Marcus Smart. He didn’t exactly fill the box score, but the former Defensive Player of the Year and this season’s Hustle Award winner stringed together a few Tommy Point plays to keep the 76ers at bay after the Celtics gave up a double digit advance.

The teams traded body shots again after halftime. A few timely three-point shots from Tyrese Maxey and PJ Tucker were matched by Al Horford. The sniper big man would finish the game 5-for-7 from behind the arc after making just one of his eight attempts on Wednesday night. But it was up to Brodgon’s giant 3 who would help build an 11-point lead going into the final frame after it was reduced to 2.

Defensively, the star of the night was Grant Williams. Along with Horford and Smart, Williams was phenomenal against MVP. Mazzulla opted to take a lot of different looks at Embiid, including more double-teams and a third defenseman on the Harden-Embiid pick-and-pop, but the more consistent base defense launched him Horford and Williams to the post. high. . Williams was able to get under and into Embiid and disrupt his timing and footwork. That, well, came to a head late in the fourth quarter when they were battling for a loose ball and Embiid’s size 17 and three hundred pounds stomped on the Celtics big man.

“Grant has been great. Grant has been humble all year. He was tough,” Brown said of Williams.

“He’s been a great part of our team and we’ve challenged him in different ways, in his level of maturity, in his ability to play his role, in his ability to step up, to stop and do what needs to be done regardless sometimes of his emotions and feelings. You can’t ask for anything better than that. Grant is a true professional. Didn’t play much in the last series and now play more in this series and accept this challenge and put his life on the line for it and get his head smashed on the court and get back up with a smile on his face. That’s Grant Williams.

And in the final minutes with the game on the line, it was Tatum’s turn to shine. He would finish the night with 27 points on 10-of-20 shooting, but he saved the best for last and closed in the clutch. With the lead at 7 and 3:22 to go, Tatum hit a contested fadeaway and that three-point step back to eliminate the 76ers in the City of Brotherly Love.

“Balance.” Both Mazzulla and Horford used the word to describe Tatum in critical time as he carried Boston’s team and bat across the finish line in Game 3.

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