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The Boston Celtics continue to dominate the Philadelphia 76ers thanks to a 121-114 overtime win over their Atlantic Division rival on Christmas Day.
Including the playoffs, Boston has won nine of the last 11 games in the series since the start of the 2017-18 season. The Celtics have also won 10 of their last 13 games overall after a 10-10 record through their first 20 games.
Kyrie Irving did most of the heavy lifting for Boston’s offense with 40 points. He tied the score at 108 in the final seconds of regulation and drilled three-pointers on back-to-back possessions in overtime to put the Celtics up by four with 90 seconds remaining to secure the win.
Joel Embiid had a monster game in defeat with 34 points and 16 rebounds. Jimmy Butler added 24 points but was just 9-of-21 from the field. Ben Simmons nearly posted a triple-double with 11 points, 14 rebounds and eight assists.
Lack of Depth Won’t Ruin Sixers’ Title Hopes
The most common criticism of the 76ers following the Butler trade has been a lack of depth on the roster without Dario Saric and Robert Covington.
General manager Elton Brand even admitted to reporters on Dec. 22 this current iteration of the Sixers roster isn’t likely going to be the same following February’s trade deadline:
“Very encouraged because we aren’t a finished product yet. We added Jimmy Butler in November. That was great, it’s not in February, when you have a bigger adjustment period.
“We have an open roster spot that we’re going to look to fill. There’s opportunity cost there, we don’t want to miss out on something from the buyout market that we might add and miss out on potential trades as the trade deadline comes.”
As presently constructed, though, the Sixers have shown they are capable of competing with the best teams in the Eastern Conference. They overcame a slow start from their role players to make it close against the Celtics.
It took nearly 18 minutes for anyone not named Embiid, Butler, Simmons or JJ Redick to get a basket:
Tim Bontemps @TimBontemps
That Wilson Chandler bucket halfway through the second quarter is the first one by a Sixer not named Butler, Simmons, Redick or Embiid.
Simmons actually showed off some range by hitting a 22-foot jumper midway through the fourth quarter with the shot clock winding down. It was the first real proof all of his efforts during pregame warm-ups are starting to pay off:
Ben Simmons (16.2 PPG, 9.2 RPG, 7.9 APG) preps for #NBAXmas action!
🏀: #HereTheyCome x #CUsRise
📺: #NBAonABC https://t.co/rgDOZMHqhH
The defense can be effective with the aforementioned quartet on the floor, even though Redick is a negative on that end:
Chris Lewis @ChrisLewisTweet
Even with JJ being completely helpless on defense, the Sixers still win every stint with JJ-Butler-Simmons-Embiid on the floor. Unfortunately, anytime they aren’t together and have to play this bench against high-end teams, it’s a huge problem. So many weaknesses to exploit.
Redick’s limitations were exploited by going up against a scorer like Irving, whom he was frequently matched up with Tuesday.
Philadelphia’s acquisition of Butler was a necessary move that proved Brand is willing to push all of his chips on the table to bring a title to the city for the first time since 1982-83.
No one will argue the 76ers are the deepest team in the East, but by the time the playoffs come around, benches get smaller because coaches aren’t going to rely much on their 10th and 11th guys to eat minutes in must-win situations.
As long as the 76ers Big Three of Simmons, Embiid and Butler are healthy, they can compete with anyone in the NBA. Anything that Brand does to boost the roster between now and the trade deadline is a bonus.
Kyrie Deserves Serious MVP Consideration for Carrying Celtics Offense
Even though the Celtics have underachieved so far this season, Irving is the driving force that has kept them among the top tier of the Eastern Conference.
He’s also making a strong case to be included in the MVP conversation. The five-time All-Star entered Tuesday as one of only two point guards averaging at least 20 points and shooting over 40 percent from three-point range. Golden State Warriors star Stephen Curry is the other one.
Boston’s offense has been a middle-of-the-road unit, ranking 13th in points per game (111.3) and offensive efficiency (111.4 points per 100 possessions). Jayson Tatum has been an enigma from game to game, though the good version showed up on Christmas with 23 points and 10 rebounds.
Gordon Hayward has only shot over 40 percent in one game since Dec. 1, including a 2-of-6 showing Tuesday. Marcus Morris has provided a nice spark with 35 points (23 against Philadelphia) in two games since returning from right knee soreness.
But everything for head coach Brad Stevens right now has to run through Irving because there’s no other go-to option on the roster.
Irving started the game on fire with 16 points in the first quarter and 23 at halftime:
“He was in his bag!”
Kyrie’s Christmas Day started with 16 pts in the first quarter 🎒 https://t.co/bSWn1cX8bj
When Stevens attempted to get Irving rest late in the third quarter and early in the fourth with the score tied, Philadelphia went on a 17-10 run to take a 98-91 lead.
Tweetgood Mac @SnottieDrippen
This is what Kyrie meant when he said guys start playing selfish. Brown has taken 3 shots that he either could have gotten anytime with plenty of time on the clock or could have passed for a better shot. Rozier forced a quick 3 for no reason.
After Wilson Chandler put the 76ers up 108-106 with 37.1 seconds remaining in regulation, Irving sent the game to overtime by picking Butler apart on his way to the basket:
Kyrie fades and gets the bounce to force OT!
WATCH OT ON ABC #NBAXmas https://t.co/lxfO1cnhyS
Boston’s starting lineup against Philadelphia featured one non-scorer in Marcus Smart and Al Horford, who is still rounding his way back into form after missing seven games with patellofemoral pain syndrome.
Irving is essentially playing the same role for Boston as James Harden is for the Houston Rockets at this moment. He has to be everything on the offensive end for his team to have a chance at winning, which is what happened against the 76ers.
The 76ers will head out West on Thursday to take on the Utah Jazz. The Celtics will begin a three-game Western Conference road trip Thursday against the Houston Rockets.