Career assists for Flyers captain Claude Giroux

Sixers go down swinging

Posted by Eric Fisher On May 9

The Sixers won’t be the “one.”

Sixers head coach Brett Brown had questioned why the Sixers couldn’t be the first team in NBA history to win a series after losing the first three games. The Sixers put up quite a fight in Game 5, but the Celtics pulled out a 114-112 victory, improving the series record of teams ahead 3-0 to 131-0.

The loss ends a turnaround season in which the Sixers won 52 games, including the final 16 of the regular season, and made the playoffs – and won a series – for the first time in six years.

“Looking at what we did, we have a bright future,” said center Joel Embiid, who is a major part of that future.

But this series taught the Sixers that their future also includes a major obstacle.

“If we’re going to do anything,” Sixers head coach Brett Brown said, “we’re going to have to go through the Boston Celtics.”

Just as the Sixers have young stars in Embiid, Ben Simmons and Dario Saric, the Celtics have Jayson Tatum, Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier. Tatum and Brown scored 25 and 24 points, respectively, during Game 5. Rozier contributed 17 points.

The Celtics also displayed superior depth, with six players in double figures, compared to four for the Sixers. And it should be noted that the Celtics are without Gordon Hayward and Kyrie Irving, two stars who suffered season-ending injuries.

The talented young rosters indicate the Celtics and Sixers could be battling for Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference supremacy for many years. Right now, though, the Celtics have the advantage.

Poor execution

As was the case in Games 2 and 3, the Celtics had better execution than the Sixers during crucial possessions at the end of the game.

“It ends up the way it always adds up,” Brown said. “There are possessions you wish you had back. But that’s life.”

Al Horford (15 points) and Marcus Smart (14 points) scored back-to-back baskets, with Smart scoring on an offensive rebound of a Tatum miss, to even the score at 109-109. Saric, whose 3-pointer with 3:28 remaining put the Sixers ahead, tried to back down Smart in the lane. But he lost the ball, and Horford scooped it up.

Tatum scored inside to put the Celtics up two points, leading to another possession the Sixers would like to have back. They did a good job getting the ball to Embiid down low, but he missed his initial shot. Embiid got his own rebounds, but Rozier stripped Embiid of the ball, knocking off his foot and out of bounds with 10.8 seconds remaining.

Despite the empty possessions, which weren’t quite as bad as the awful execution at the end of regulation and overtime during Game 3, nobody could blame Embiid and Saric for the loss.

“There was a toughness to both of them,” Brown said. “For a large part of the game, they really carried us.”

Fight to the finish

Rozier made two free throws with 9.8 seconds remaining to make it a two-possession game, but JJ Redick gave the Sixers a chance with a 3-pointer with 3.8 seconds remaining. The Sixers’ chances appeared brighter when Smart missed his first free throw with 2.4 seconds remaining. Smart tried to miss his second free throw on purpose to run down the clock, but, in his haste, he fired up a shot that rattled around and went in, giving the Celtics a 114-112 lead.

The Sixers didn’t have any timeouts remaining, so they couldn’t advance the ball. With Embiid appearing to be late getting into position, Simmons’ desperation pass for Robert Covington was intercepted, ending the Sixers’ hopes.

“Our guys didn’t go away,” Brown said. “We didn’t go way. That doesn’t surprise me. That’s who they’ve been. The fight I saw tonight confirms what I’m saying.”

Physical battle

The Sixers showed plenty of fight in this physical, back-and-forth game. There were 17 lead changes and seven ties during the first half, and neither team led by more than four points until the Celtics went on an 8-0 run in the final minute for a 61-52 lead.

In fact, the Sixers held a 1-point lead with 1 minute remaining in the first half. Once again, however, the Celtics had much better execution at the end of a half.

Not surprisingly, the Celtics made adjustments after losing Game 4. They didn’t ignore T.J. McConnell, who finished with nine points in a solid effort. But that was a far cry from his game-changing 19 points, a career high, during the Sixers’ Game 4 triumph.

The Celtics also smothered Redick (14 points) outside the 3-point arc. Redick had difficulty even attempting a 3-point shot, let alone making one.

Another strategy was to sag in on defense when Simmons had the ball. When Simmons got the ball in the 10-15 foot range, Celtics fans would yell “shoot!” as if it was a Flyers power play at Wells Fargo Center. Simmons’ jump shot wasn’t working, although he was able to bull his way to the basket for 18 points.

Huge improvement

Simmons will likely work on his shot this summer. As he and Embiid grow together, along with Saric, the Sixers should only get better. With Simmons taking the NBA court for the first time and Embiid playing most of the games until his late-season broken orbital bone, the Sixers improved from 28 wins last season to 52 this season. They are only two seasons removed from winning 10 games.

While acknowledging his team’s accomplishments, Brown said he couldn’t appreciate them right now due to the disappointment and emptiness that comes with being eliminated from the playoffs.

“I hate losing more than I love winning,” Brown said. “That’s a fact.”

Another fact is that the Celtics are better than the Sixers.

The challenge for the Sixers is to reverse the previous sentence as these two young teams continue to develop.

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Side angle of Cody Parkey's missed field goal