Joel Embiid Dominates as 76ers Beat Kemba Walker, Celtics Without Al Horford

Tyler Conway@jtylerconwayFeatured ColumnistDecember 13, 2019

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid looks for room to shoot against Boston Celtics forward Daniel Theis, left, in the first quarter of an NBA basketball game, Thursday, Dec. 12, 2019, in Boston. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

The 76ers didn't have Al Horford for his first game back in Boston since he left for Philadelphia this summer.

It didn't matter.

Joel Embiid went for a 38-point, 13-rebound double-double and Tobias Harris scored 23 points, leading the Sixers to a 115-109 victory over the Celtics on Thursday.

The Sixers knocked down 14 of 28 threes, thanks in large part to a 15-point effort from Mike Scott. The leader of the Hive knocked down five of seven attempts from distance for his sixth double-digit scoring effort of the season.

The Celtics were led by 29 points from Kemba Walker and a 20-point night from Enes Kanter off the bench. Boston entered the evening 10-0 at TD Garden.

   

Notable Stats

Sixers

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C Joel Embiid: 12-21 FG (2-3 3PT), 38 points, 13 rebounds, 6 assists

F Tobias Harris: 10-20 FG (1-3 3PT), 23 points, 8 rebounds, 7 assists

F Mike Scott: 5-7 FG (5-7 3PT), 15 points, 4 rebounds

G Josh Richardson: 5-11 FG (2-3 3PT), 14 points, 2 rebounds, 2 assists

   

Celtics

G Kemba Walker: 8-21 FG (5-13 3PT), 29 points, 8 assists, 1 rebound

C Enes Kanter: 10-13 FG (0-1 3PT), 20 points, 9 rebounds, 2 steals, 2 blocks

F Gordon Hayward: 8-16 FG (2-4 3PT), 19 points, 5 assists, 4 rebounds

F Jayson Tatum: 5-18 FG (3-8 3PT), 15 points, 4 assists, 3 rebounds

   

Embiid Bounces Back From Criticism With Superstar Performance

A year ago, Al Horford was the Celtics' designated Embiid stopper. Now he's a Sixer, and the Celtics were at a total loss with how to stop Embiid.

The 7-footer had his way with every big body Boston sent his way, setting his season high in points and hitting clutch free throws down the stretch. 

More importantly, this performance seems to be an aggressive response to criticism lobbed at Embiid by TNT's Charles Barkley and Shaquille O'Neal. The Hall of Famers expressed their disappointment with Embiid's down season Tuesday night, with O'Neal calling on him to play harder on a nightly basis and Barkley saying he's failing to live up to his potential. 

"He's the toughest player in the league to match up with," Barkley said. "But we don't talk about him the way we talk about Luka [Doncic], Giannis [Antetokounmpo], Anthony Davis, James. We don't ever say that about him."

Embiid responded to their criticism in his media scrum Thursday. Rather than pulling an "OK Boomer" and being dismissive, Embiid admitted their criticisms were valid.

"Maybe they're right," Embiid told reporters. "I do think they're right. I think I need to be more aggressive and just look to impose myself and look to dominate. I think the whole season, I haven't done that. I guess I need to go back to having fun and just dominating. I get what they're saying. I think that they're right, and I've got to make a change."

This was without a doubt the most complete performance of Embiid's season and came on a night without Horford and with Ben Simmons essentially disappearing for all 36 of his minutes. This is Embiid's team, and the sooner it starts playing around his strengths, the better.

   

Celtics Lose 2 Straight, Are Totally Fine

The Celtics have five days off before playing again, a strange scheduling quirk that's borderline befuddling. They'll travel to play the Mavericks on Wednesday, which will be one of those contests they'll need to win to avoid handwringing in Boston. 

Of course, none of this is needed. The Celtics have lost seven games this season, only one of which has been by more than six points. They're one of the league's most consistently competitive teams, even in losses, and have outperformed the rosiest expectations through the season's first quarter.

Some form of mean regression is coming. This roster still has the deep flaws it had in August, and there are going to be nights when Tatum and Jaylen Brown vanish like Thursday. Without their two young stars playing like budding All-Stars, Walker is surrounded by a Charlotte-like supporting cast—especially with Hayward still rounding his way into form.

It would be a surprise if the Celtics didn't have these types of swoons. The down times last season led to a full-scale implosion. How they handle the next five days will be a good test for the budding chemistry of this new-look roster.