Joel Embiid, Jaylen Brown Star in Duel as 76ers Sweep 2-Game Series with Celtics

Blake SchusterSenior Analyst IIJanuary 23, 2021

Philadelphia 76ers center Joel Embiid, left, celebrates with forward Tobias Harris, center, and guard Ben Simmons, right, following the team's NBA basketball game against the Boston Celtics, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2021, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Chris Szagola)
Chris Szagola/Associated Press

For the second time in as many games, the Philadelphia 76ers defeated the Boston Celtics at Wells Fargo Center, 122-110. 

The two-game sweep moves the Sixers to 11-5 on the year while the Celtics fall to 8-6. The win also extends Philly's lead in the Atlantic division to two games over Boston.

After defeating the Celtics 117-109 on Wednesday, the 76ers got even stronger with Seth Curry returning to the lineup following a six-game absence due to the league's health and safety protocols. The guard notched 15 points with three three-pointers over 26 minutes in his return. 

Along with another MVP-caliber performance from Joel Embiid, it was more than enough to finish off the Celtics, who have now lost three straight. 

      

Notable Performers

Joel Embiid, C, Philadelphia 76ers: 38 points, 11 rebounds, 3 assists, 11-for-15 FG, 14-for-15 FT

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Tobias Harris, PF, Philadelphia 76ers: 23 points, 8 rebounds, 3 assists, 10-for-12 FG

Jaylen Brown, SG, Boston Celtics: 42 points, 9 rebounds, 3 assists

Marcus Smart, PG, Boston Celtics: 20 points, 7 assists, 3 rebounds 

        

Joel's EmVP Case Grows

By the midway point of the third quarter, Embiid had picked up four fouls and was lying on his back in the paint waiting to draw a call of his own. It was an ugly sight that perhaps in any other season would've been cause to pull the big man for a rest. 

That isn't what head coach Doc Rivers did. And it isn't what Embiid needed, apparently. 

Instead, the early-season MVP candidate picked himself back up and got right back to work, driving through multiple Celtics defenders, crafting nifty up-and-unders and finding his stroke from behind the arc. 

Those foul calls would eventually come, but they were the result of hard work more than anything. After stepping to the free-throw line 21 times against Boston on Wednesday, Embiid earned 15 more trips to the stripe on Friday. He sank all but one. 

After the first game of the series, Celtics guard Marcus Smart called out Embiid for flopping. 

"It is tough," Smart told reporters. "Especially when we've got our hands up a lot of the times, and he flails and gets the call, and then down on the other end we've got our guys attacking the rim, getting a lot of contact, and we're just not getting the whistle. It's tough to play like that." 

The Sixers' reaction was emblematic of how the team has gotten Embiid to battle through adversity in games this season: give it right back.

"I think Marcus is an expert at that, so he would definitely know if Joel is doing it," Rivers said

When Smart flopped early in the first quarter in an attempt to draw a foul Friday, Embiid didn't take it personally. He walked over to Smart at the next break in play and showed him respect.

This isn't Embiid letting the game come to him so much as it is Embiid dictating how he wants to play. And it's working. 

As the Sixers took control late in the fourth quarter, Embiid hit a step-back three for the dagger, closing the game out with as much style as intensity. As his MVP chances grow, Embiid isn't changing how he plays; he's committing to it more than ever. 

         

Brown Matches Season High in Scoring

Embiid wasn't the only player on Friday who doubled down on his game plan from Wednesday's series opener. Jaylen Brown did the exact same. 

After attempting 24 field goals Wednesday, Brown took a season-high 28 on Friday. The resulting 42 points matched a season high for Brown, who also reached that mark on Dec. 30 in a win over the Memphis Grizzlies. 

While Brown's shot totals are unlikely to remain that high, it's an encouraging sign for Boston head coach Brad Stevens to know his star swingman has that gear available. He's only been required to use it more of late as forward Jayson Tatum remains sidelined due to the league's health and safety protocols. 

In four games without Tatum available, Brown is averaging 21 shots per night. Those numbers are likely to decrease a bit once Tatum rejoins the lineup. On Friday, however, that volume-shooting nearly got the Celtics a win over their division rival. 

As effective as Brown was from deep (5-of-8), his work around the paint was even more notable. He went a perfect 8-of-8 on shots around the rim, bullying his way past the size of Embiid, Simmons and Tobias Harris—on a night when Simmons proved particularly effective on defense, no less. 

With the Celtics bench combining for only 22 points, Boston sorely needed that type of scoring outburst from Brown.

Keeping that level of production up as the lineup gets healthier will be Stevens' next challenge. 

             

What's Next

Boston returns home for a Sunday matchup with the Cleveland Cavaliers at 7 p.m. ET before heading back out on the road for a two-game trip to Chicago and San Antonio next week. Philadelphia, meanwhile, kicks off a two-game series with the Detroit Pistons at Little Caesars Arena beginning Saturday at 8 p.m. ET.