PHILADELPHIA -- Effort wasn’t going to be an issue for the Celtics heading into Tuesday night. After two embarrassing losses and being called out publicly by Marcus Morris following a collapse against the Clippers, it was evident from the opening tip that the C’s would be playing with some extra fire in Philadelphia. For most of this year, that type of focus and energy has not been enough for this team on the road (13-13 record entering Tuesday night). With just one win over a .500 opponent away from TD Garden before the matchup in Philly, the odds of pulling off a victory against a loaded Sixers squad without Kyrie Irving seemed faint.
“We have to play exceptionally well to have a chance to win, that's the bottom line," Brad Stevens explained before the game. "As far as competing and doing the things that we need to do from that angle, I would think that we would come out and play really hard.”
The Celtics got some help from the usual suspects in the 112-109 victory. Al Horford (23 points, eight rebounds, five assists, four steals) won his battle with Joel Embiid yet again, which led to the Sixers center cursing out the officials unprompted at the end of his postgame press conference, a laughable situation given the fact Embiid has attempted the second most free throws in the NBA. Jayson Tatum (20 points, 10 rebounds) and Marcus Morris (17 points) pitched in from the frontcourt with big shooting nights. Boston’s defense was fully locked in on the Sixers shooters (9-of-27 from 3-point range) as the team’s communication and rotations were the best they’ve put together in months.
Yet, after a couple stinkers from the starting backcourt (Smart and Rozier were 5-of-22 combined), this was a game that could have easily slipped away. Instead, Gordon Hayward (game-high 26 points, 8-of-11 FG, 4-of-4 FT, 6-of-7 3pt) came to the rescue in what was his best performance in a Celtic uniform.