Underdogs at home?
The Boston Celtics seemed to take umbrage with that in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference semifinals series vs. the Philadelphia 76ers, breaking out their usual well-balanced attack on the offensive end in a 117-101 win on Monday night at TD Garden.
With Jaylen Brown the latest member of Boston’s walking wounded, the Celtics received monster performances from Al Horford, Jayson Tatum and Terry Rozier III. It was a continuation of the trio’s showing in Game 7 of the previous round vs. the Milwaukee Bucks, and yet another encouraging sign for Tatum after an up-and-down postseason series debut.
“I thought he was really good, really consistent,” Boston head coach Brad Stevens said of Tatum after the game. “He made some tough shots but also got to the rim and made some plays for us. He got to the line, which he needed with his drives. I thought he had a good game.”
Tatum poured in 28 for Boston, his third straight game with at least 20 points and a new career-high – regular or postseason. Horford finished with 26 points and seven rebounds and Rozier had 29 points, eight rebounds and six assists. Rozier’s 29 points were a career-playoff high, besting his previous mark of 26 from Game 7 against Milwaukee.
The trio spent the final two or so minutes of the third quarter on the bench, resting up for what was sure to be a frantic final quarter in which their services would be required for Boston to pull the game out.
When they exited the game, the Celtics had a 12-point lead. The Sixers never got closer than eight points of Boston in the fourth, thanks in large part to Rozier’s absurd line from beyond the arc; the third-year guard finished 7-of-9 from 3, including 3-for-4 in the final 12 minutes.
"We all got together yesterday and we had a plan,” Rozier said, speaking of how the Celtics keep getting by despite the infirmary on their roster growing by the day. “No matter who’s on the court, we’re well-coached. Our coaches hold accountable for taking care of business, and we hold each other accountable. That’s the most important thing.”
Rozier, who donned a Drew Bledsoe Patriots jersey to his postgame press conference, wasn’t the only Celtic feeling it from deep. The team shot 47 percent (17-for-36) from 3-point land. Things were going so well, even Aron Baynes sank a pair of treys after making just three in 81 regular season games.
Marcus Morris once again chipped in off the bench for Boston with 11 points. The Celtics were also excellent from the free throw line, connecting on 18 of their 19 attempts from the stripe. Tatum had the team’s lone miss, but he still went 11-for-12 to lead the team in made foul shots.
It warrants mentioning that while Tatum was doing his thing for the Celtics, Markelle Fultz – with whom he’ll be forever linked with after a draft day trade last summer – couldn’t get off the bench for the 76ers.
Philadelphia, which won 16 games in a row to close the regular season and dispatched the Miami Heat in five games, suffered only its second loss in its last 22 games overall. Joel Embiid led the Sixers with 31 points, JJ Redick had 20 and Ben Simmons had 18.
“The Celtics, we give them credit,” Philadelphia head coach Brett Brown said. “I never felt we were in the game.”
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is Thursday night at TD Garden at 8:30 p.m.