Wednesday’s Game 2 between the Celtics and 76ers started with Joel Embiid scoring or assisting on 17 of Philadelphia’s first 21 points. It ended with Embiid dropping his head into his hands as Boston put the finishing touches on a 128-101 victory and secured a 2-0 first-round series lead.
After a promising first quarter, Philly was outscored 101-68 over the last 36 minutes, yet the final tally failed to indicate the level of domination by Boston. The Celtics shot 51.2 percent from the field and 44.2 percent from 3-point range. They outrebounded the 76ers 43-39. They totaled 20 assists and turned the ball over just six times.
During the TNT broadcast, play-by-play man Spero Dedes said the game had turned into “target practice.” Jayson Tatum (team-high 33 points) and Kemba Walker (22 points) stepped into some of the easiest jumpers of their careers. Walker noted after the win he hadn’t seen that much space “in a very long time.” Closeouts on Celtics shooters were either bad or nonexistent.
The Sixers’ offense wasn’t much better. Tobias Harris scored 13 points on 4-of-15 shooting, and Al Horford, who got benched for rookie Matisse Thybulle, contributed a whopping four points in 23 minutes. Embiid had 34 points and 11 rebounds, but he became visibly frustrated multiple times following empty possessions and lazy post entry passes.
At this stage of the series, it seems to be a matter of when, not if, the Sixers pack their bags and leave the NBA’s “bubble.” Failures in execution or communication are one thing, but the lack of effort was alarming. Philadelphia wasn’t expected to advance without two-time All-Star Ben Simmons, but is there any pride here?
An early playoff exit would mark the end of a rough season, but not the end of the 76ers’ problems. Coach Brett Brown has failed to make the necessary adjustments to maximize this group’s potential. His departure feels imminent. That would kick off an incredibly important coaching search this offseason.
But the blame doesn’t fall solely at the feet of Brown. The front office signed Harris (five years, $180 million) and Horford (four years, $109 million) to massive deals last offseason. Both players have completely underwhelmed this season and are more likely to decline than improve over the course of their deals.
Dumping those contracts is out of the question unless the 76ers somehow managed to attach draft picks or talented players in a trade, but what they possess isn’t enough to entice another team to eat that much money. They are stuck with the awkward core of Embiid, Simmons, Harris and Horford for the foreseeable future.
Not long ago, the Sixers had two rising stars and unlimited possibilities. They had the look of a real contender for years to come.
Now Philly is staring at an 0-2 hole and a lot of questions with no easy answers. It’s hard to blame Embiid for looking away from such a disaster.
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