The Boston Celtics entered Friday night's matchup with the Philadelphia 76ers riding the momentum of a three-game win streak. But that recent surge started with a victory against a New York Knicks team missing Evan Fournier, who has torched Boston every time he's faced his former team this season. Then, the Celtics pulled out an overtime win at home against the Indiana Pacers before making light work of them in Indiana.
Friday's game was a better barometer for where this Celtics team is. While they might not be as bad as this performance suggests, it shows how far they are from competing with the top teams in the East, of which Philadelphia isn't even on the first tier.
Here is what stood out from a defeat that dropped the Celtics to 21-22 and 11th in the Eastern Conference, meaning they're on the outside looking in at the play-in tournament.
The Celtics Weren't Ready to Play
After jumping out to an 8-2 lead, the game took a dramatic turn. The Celtics' pace of play slowed down, they committed careless turnovers, their transition defense failed to cover for those mistakes, their defensive rotations were late, and an off-shooting night meant they weren't getting bailed out.
Boston gave the ball away 11 times, leading to 17 points for the Sixers in the first half. Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown didn't help matters. Both shot 2/10, and the former committed six turnovers, which at the time were the most in the game. As a team, the Celtics entered the break converting just 30.8 percent of their field-goal attempts, including 6/19 (31.6 percent) from beyond the arc.
It wasn't as if the Sixers shot much better. They made 46.5 percent of their field goals in the first half but went 5/17 (29.4 percent) from three. However, along with those 17 points that came off turnovers, Philadelphia added ten more at the free-throw line.
Joel Embiid's 30-Point Scoring Streak Comes to an End
After scoring at least 30 points in eight-straight games, Joel Embiid registered 25 on Friday. The All-Star center and MVP candidate had some trouble against Boston's zone defense in the second quarter, but he found his rhythm operating from the middle of the floor in the third frame.
Embiid's 25 points came on 7/15 shooting; he went 9/9 at the free-throw line, grabbed 13 rebounds, dished out six assists, and earned a game-high plus-minus rating of +20.
Celtics' Starters Sit Majority of the Fourth Quarter
Ime Udoka pulled the starters less than three minutes into the final frame. Tatum and Brown still logged 32 minutes, and Robert Williams played 31, but at least they got to rest their legs at the end of the front half of a back-to-back.
Plus, Payton Pritchard, Grant Williams, Aaron Nesmith, Romeo Langford, and Enes Freedom made the end of the game interesting. That unit nearly cut Philadelphia's lead to 11 with over 6:30 to play, but Langford's three rattled out, and Seth Curry drained a shot from beyond the arc at the other end. Langford made a free throw to trim the deficit to 10, but with 1:01 left, stealing a come-from-behind victory wasn't realistic.
The Celtics host the Chicago Bulls on Saturday. Zach LaVine left Friday's game between the Bulls and the Golden State Warriors due to a left knee injury. According to ESPN's Adrian Wojnarowski, LaVine will undergo an MRI on Saturday. Wojnarowski adds that there's "initial confidence" about what his diagnosis will reveal, but it puts his status for Saturday's game in doubt.
Tip-off between Boston and Chicago is at 8:30 EST. Inside The Celtics will have content related to the game coming out before, during, and after. And follow @BobbyKrivitsky on Twitter for updates and analysis from pregame to post.