BOSTON — It is a good thing that the old saw about only getting one chance to make a good first impression is just words, as Joel Embiid saw his chance at making a first impression as the newly-minted NBA Most Valuable Player turn into a resounding thud — and a defeat — last Friday night. Four long days and two impressive wins later, Embiid now has his fingerprints all over this Eastern Conference semifinals series, and Tuesday’s performance, in front of hostile territory and on the backdrop of past Sixers’ failure in this round of the playoffs, is surely his magnum opus.
For the rest of the team, the win could be the one that signifies the ballyhooed “Process” finally progressing onto the next phase.
On the strength of Embiid’s dominance and the team’s balanced attack, the Philadelphia 76ers sucked the energy out of TD Garden early, then proceeded to keep the Boston Celtics at bay during a 115-103 victory which sees the Sixers take a three-games-to-two series lead in the semifinals series. Four of the Sixers’ five starters had double figures in points by halftime as Philadelphia held a double-digit lead for the final 22 minutes and 23 seconds of the contest.
“Throughout the whole game we just stayed steady,” Embiid said. “So I think that’s a big change from last game, which I’m super happy about. If you’re up by that much you have to keep finding ways to increase [the lead], instead of giving them an opportunity to believe in themselves.
“I thought tonight we were locked in to make sure we didn’t really give them a chance.”
Embiid, along with James Harden, were the lynchpins in not giving the Celtics a chance, working the pick-and-roll to near perfection as Embiid scored 21 of his points in the first half. When he was not open for mid-range jumpers, Embiid caused hosts of problems inside for Boston’s bigs, resulting in Embiid taking nine free throws — and making all nine from the charity stripe — in the first half.
It was Embiid’s third consecutive 30-point game in the series, though the first of the stretch came in the 115-103 defeat in Game 3 that gave Boston a 2-1 series lead. From there, all Embiid has done is provide signature moments while dominating in Sixers victories; In Game 4, his pass to Harden out of a double team led to Harden’s game-winning three on the Sixers’ final possession in Game 4, and his LeBron-style chase-down block of Jaylen Brown in the fourth quarter tonight quelled any thoughts the Celtics or their fans had that the latest parquet floor magic could happen once more.
*Editor’s note: Above the byline is the photo gallery from Tuesday’s contest, with the photos courtesy of Justin Cohen Photography. After clicking on the first photo to enlarge the picture, make sure to press the left and right arrow buttons to scroll through the rest of the pictures. There are 28 pictures in total.