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Monday night, with seven Celtics and three Sixers in health and safety protocol, in addition to a rash of other assorted Philadelphia injuries, the uncharted course continued. Robert Williams was a late scratch for personal reasons, leaving the Celtics with Enes Freedom and the little-used Bruno Fernando to handle Joel Embiid.
After leading by two points with 1:54 left, the Celtics slipped, 108-103, in a collision of .500 teams.
Jaylen Brown had his strongest performance yet since returning from hamstring trouble with 30 points, but Embiid was simply too strong from all spots on the floor.
Embiid capped his 41-point, 14-for-27, 12-for-14 free throw performance with nine points in the last minute after Danny Green’s 3-pointer gave the Sixers a 99-98 lead with 1:43 left. The Celtics had taken their last lead of the night with 1:54 left when Marcus Smart went 1-for-2 from the line.
“t’s day by day right now, not just us. Boston’s going through it — a lot of teams are going through it,
It’s unchartered. Each year with this COVID feels like it’s different, and this is another one. We just learn as we go. We have to play all of these games with all the guys out, and Boston is the same. It’s almost like no one has a true record yet, except for the teams that have been lucky. Shouldn’t come down to that.Philadelphia coach Doc Rivers said.
Three-pointers from Marcus Smart and Jaylen Brown in the last 45 seconds of the third quarter staked the Celtics to an 80-75 lead, after Tatum had scored the previous four Celtics points. Brown, who had 22 points to this stage, had just scored 12 in the quarter.
Seth Curry tied the score, 82-82, with a four-point play, after getting fouled by Brown while hitting a pull-up 3-pointer. But Brown took the lead back from the line, and Payton Pritchard wrapped a pair of pull-up jumpers around a Curry jumper for an 88-84 Celtics lead with 6:48 left.
Freedom followed with a layup off an Aaron Nesmith feed for a 90-84 edge – Embiid trimmed it with two free throws followed by a drive. But Pritchard hit from downtown, Tatum stole the ball to set up a 1-for-2 trip to the line by Brown for a 94-88 edge.
Embiid went to the line off another Freedom foul and cut the Celtics lead to four points, only for Brown to bury his third trey of the night from the left corner. Matisse Thybulle answered from downtown, Tatum was called for a charge trying to free up from Embiid, and Freedom fouled Embiid again.
The Philly center, with 3:05 left, cut the Celtics lead to 97-95 with two free throws. Thybulle, such a factor defending Tatum, fouled out with 2:20 left. But Smart was whistled for a technical foul, with Harris thus cutting the Celtics lead to 97-96.
Tatum was blocked by Embiid, but Smart stole the ball back down the other end and then drew the foul off Danny Green. The Celtics guard hit once with 1:54 left.
98-96 lead that Danny Green immediately erased from downtown with a 3-pointer to take the lead back.
Embiid drove for a 101-98 Philly lead, Brown cut the margin to a point, only for Embiid to drive again, for a 103-100 edge. Freedom went 1-for-2 from the line, and with 11.3 seconds left, Embiid hit from 17 feet for a 105-101 Philly lead.
Freedom hit a 10-footer with 4.6 seconds left, and Embiid could only hit the second of two free throws for a 106-103 lead that held up when the Celtics threw away the ensuing inbounds pass.